IP Increases WAN Flexibility

Carl Weinschenk

The use of the Internet protocol is opening large opportunities for enterprises and carriers to streamline services. One approach is to aggregate capacity from multiple providers and present it as one stream to the enterprise local-area network (LAN). Cahit Akin, the CEO of Mushroom Networks, told IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk that an appliance-based device can virtualize bandwidth to drive efficiencies, cut costs and buttress reliability.

Weinschenk: Is VoIP set and done, or is the process of improving networks and services ongoing?

Akin: I think it still is an ongoing process. A couple of important things are happening.

There are many aspects to this, including WAN management. If VoIP is funneled over an unmanaged WAN, there are things that can negatively affect quality, such as cross traffic and variations that lead to latency and jitter.

A provider can add capacity. This is the legacy way: Enlarge the single pipe you have to a larger pipe. The customer can go to a more expensive, higher SLA. It’s a single link, which will give you higher reliability.

Weinschenk: Are these things changing?

Akin: What has been changing is that there are new trends and technologies that enable the same type of solutions in terms of quality, capacity and reliability improvements without the associated high costs.

Let me take a step back and explain how I see all the newer technology at the higher umbrella level. I see it in terms of virtualization. If you look at server and storage virtualization, for instance, instead of a single dedicated hardware level, people [operate] at the software level. In storage virtualization, there is an intelligent software layer that manages the resources underneath. Users see a single optimized layer underneath.

Weinschenk: So you are saying that the basic concept of virtualization can be applied to broadband capacity?

Akin: If you have a box that does that for you as an IT manager, you don’t need to go in and try to manage all the networks because the box itself provides the optimized pipe. Basically, you have multiple WAN resources in that box or whatever entity the functionality is in and by virtualization you are combining them into a virtualized IP pipe. The end user sees it as a single pipe.

Weinschenk: In what and where is this deployed?

Akin: It’s usually in an appliance form factor. It’s at the gateway point before the WAN modem. It’s a box. On the customer-facing side of the box, there is a network connector, in most cases Ethernet, which goes into the local network on the LAN side. If you think in terms of a single modem connecting to the local LAN, this goes in line between the modem and the existing network. On the LAN side, there is one connection – to the firewall, in most cases. On the WAN side, multiple broadband lines are aggregated.

Weinschenk: So you have multiple feeds coming in from carriers – wireline and wired – and one pipe coming out. How is the integrity of each stream maintained?

Akin: That is specific to companies. Some would keep the aggregation granularity at the session level, some at the user level, and some at the packet level. You now have a five-lane highway and are trying to push passengers through the highway. You can use long trains, which would be sessions or, if you want it to be more granular, you may split it into smaller cars and push it that way. You might have different technologies in terms of metering into the highway.

Weinschenk: But the secret is that they are talking in IP.

Akin: In the appliance, all these networking protocols are encapsulated in IP packets.

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