Technology Make-Over

Network equipment vendors take products designed for providers and switch focus to enterprises.

As telecommunications carriers continue to retrench, with few signs of conducting major network upgrades in the immediate future, many network equipment makers have turned their attention to enterprises. Frequently, the detour has meant that products designed for service providers have been tweaked to suit enterprises.

Not all carrier-grade gear is readily adaptable to enterprise networks, but tools such as configuration control and inventory management software have already found their way into enterprise systems. Gold Wire Technologies Inc. recently transformed itself into an enterprise-focused business from a carrier-focused business. In April 2001, the Waltham, Mass., company set out to sell OSS (operational support system) tools to next-generation data service providers, also known as CLECs, or Competitive Local Exchange Carriers. The company found early success with PSINet Inc., Qwest Communications Inc. and Teleglobe Inc., but it was short-lived.

"Right as we were making those latter sales, the whole market fell apart beneath us," said Jonathan Wolf, Gold Wire CEO and co-founder.

The company laid off between 30 and 40 percent of its staff and "set off on a mission to find a new market," Wolf said. After examining seven variant uses for the companys software, including virtual private network services and cable modem provisioning, Gold Wire officials discovered an interest among enterprises for some of the core capabilities of access control and auditing, he said.

To retune the software for enterprises, Gold Wire had to expand support for additional vendors. The company was accustomed to integrating with equipment from Juniper Networks Inc. in service provider networks, but it had to adapt to other major vendors gear. "In enterprise accounts, we see a lot of Nortel [Networks Corp.] gear, and thats very rare in a service provider," Wolf said.

Gold Wire also eliminated some of the most complex, customizable functions. Carriers, whose business is the network itself, sought maximum flexibility to integrate the technology into other business processes, such as billing and customer support, but enterprises seek simplicity instead, Wolf said.

Rather than marketing its technology as software and leaving it to the user to install, Gold Wire loaded the software on a rack-mounted server and now sells the technology as a management device. "At this point, we said, Lets just go the whole way," Wolf said, adding that enterprise network managers "dont want to go to their system administration group and have to rustle up a Sun [Microsystems Inc. server]."

The transformation of pure software tools to software/hardware tools is a growing trend in network management, according to analysts. "More and more, I see different management functions migrating to the appliance model," said Glenn ODonnell, an analyst at Meta Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "If you package it as an application, you basically let users plug it in."

Gold Wires strategy of refocusing on enterprises is not uncommon in the OSS industry, particularly as enterprises discover the value of network automation and reduce reliance on manual expertise, ODonnell said. "The enterprise world has a lot of—for lack of a better term—Cisco-certified IOS experts," he said. "They hold the keys—they hold the magic to making all of this work. A lot of that can be automated with software, but thats not something they want to hear."

The main differences between carrier-grade and enterprise equipment are scale and operational maturity, according to ODonnell, and operational maturity requires attention to methodical processes. If a network must perform the same function thousands of times each day, the process should be harmonized, he said.

"Youre starting to see enterprises adopt more of the service provider mentality," ODonnell said. "If youre going to do configuration change management, you need to have inventory management so you know what youve got to begin with. It really comes down to automation."

Granite Systems Inc., in Manchester, N.H., followed a similar transformation and recently clinched its first two enterprise customers, Schlumberger Ltd. and the French postal system La Poste. Schlumbergers network is approximately the size of a small countrys telephone system, said Mark Mortensen, senior vice president of product management at Granite Systems.

Not all enterprises will find the re-tuned carrier-grade gear attractive, however. Equipment built for a network that is a business unto itself will likely be worth its price only to enterprises that carry large volumes of critical data, such as financial services companies or oil companies.

"Its people who really look upon their networks as a strategic resource," Mortensen said.

Granite Systems resource management software, originally built for carriers, is a logical fit for large enterprises that need to track increasingly unwieldy network inventory, but it was surprising to discover growing interest among enterprises for its IP address management software as well, Mortensen said.