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January 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 1
Executive Suite

Rich Tehranis Executive Suite: Newport Networks' Dave Gladwin

Rich Tehrani’s Executive Suite is a monthly feature in which leading executives in the VoIP and IP Communications industry discuss their company’s latest developments with TMC president Rich Tehrani, as well as providing analysis on industry news and trends.

The mobility movement of recent years, driven by the development of condensed technology, allowing increased functionality on handheld devices and laptops, has been a significant force in driving convergence of wireless and wireline communications. In fact, users are demanding like access to network resources, regardless of the access network, device, or media type, which is, in turn, driving the adoption of IMS infrastructures.

Not long ago, there was concern that the Session Border Controller market was fading. That theory, however, seems to have been unfounded, and SBC vendors are finding themselves enhancing their products for today’s new multimedia networks — in both service provider and enterprise environments. SBCs, in fact, are a key component in today’s IMS networks, forming a barrier between core and access networks, effectively protecting both.

Recently, Rich had the opportunity to speak with Newport Networks’ Vice President of Product Marketing, Dave Gladwin, who explained how the IMS space is growing and, specifically, how the SBC fits into IMS networks.

RT: How will SBCs impact the IMS space?

DG: There is a past, a present, and a future to this question. In the past, the IMS space has already been influenced by SBCs because, in essence, the SBC predates IMS specifications. Before SBCs were called SBCs, they were referred to as media relays by the likes of BT. There’s a whole history about how they’ve evolved.

The important thing is there’s been a lot of cross-functionality that has developed from the SBC into IMS, and vice versa — some of the functions that are in IMS are functions of the SBC. For example, one of the obvious things is the fact that IMS is a complete separation of the signaling and media planes. If you actually look at the elements of the SBC, then you’ve got a very loose mapping of the IBCF and the IBGF on the interconnect side, onto the signaling and media functions within the SBC.

As the products have developed and the specs have developed, they’ve been shaped by the same environment and, as a result, they very much have a lot of objectives in common.

Having said that, there are some things SBCs provide that IMS doesn’t require, but in a modern, secure, functioning network, are actually needed, like NAT traversal, signaling and media security, and other functions.

That’s part of the future, because, from my experience with people that are implementing these networks, these things will become part of a standard IMS suite in the future, simply because they are there.

RT: There’s no SBC element in the IMS specifications; does that mean IMS needs them?

DG: I would say, yes, for some of the reasons I just mentioned. In particular, signaling and media security is one of the primary requirements. Even though there are no elements within the IMS labeled SBC, that functionality is still there. If you look that the IBCF/IBGF part of IMS, it is effectively providing a distributed SBC-type function on the interconnect points.

At the same time, it’s actually offering additional functions that are not required from the specs, but equally, you need in a practical situation.

The same thing really applies on the access side. If you look at fundamental things that SBCs do, for example, NAT Traversal, validation of signaling, and more, they are required in the network, but are not necessarily defined in the IMS specs.

RT: Does IMS cover all the functions required to deliver reliable multimedia services?

DG: IMS is a very good template. It achieves the very important step of separation of services and delivery mechanisms. In terms of actually putting out common services over multiple networks, the architecture is there, and that is the key thing to take away from IMS.

There are things like the intrinsic security for the core elements that are not specified, which perhaps are weaknesses within the IMS specs. But, they are being addressed by the practical implementations we’re seeing out there, in order to not just create a working core, but also to create what I call a survivable core.

An example is a data center. You wouldn’t put a data center online without putting things like firewall and intrusion detection systems and so forth around the outside. The same rules effectively apply to deployment of IMS. The core elements need additional protection to ensure they actually survive and continue to deliver service and to ensure IMS can do what it’s supposed to do, and actually set up events and deal with the services.

RT: How are you seeing your customers’ networks developing?

DG: Most of our customers have a very pragmatic view of where they are today, where they need to go, and what services they need to deploy. They’re trying to get from A to B, and we’re not seeing people take this massive leap and actually going directly to B. Rather, we’re seeing people evaluating what they’ve got, looking at the services and service architectures they need to put in place in order to get to that estimation, and then picking and choosing the pieces they actually need to achieve the next step on their way — in a way so that they will still be able to generate revenue.

Most people seem to have a very practical view of what IMS is going to offer them in terms of the service area of the network. One way of looking at it is that it allows them to fail quickly and inexpensively, so they don’t have to commit large amounts of resources to a service that is not necessarily going to work.

In terms of what goes into their networks and how they develop, we see them ensuring that what we actually put in place is aligned with IMS specifications. For example, for us as a vendor, this means that, every time we sell any elements into a network like this, we have to ensure it is, at minimum, IMS-ready, IMS-compliant.

RT: Is IMS relevant to all service providers?

DG: Perhaps not all service providers. Certainly, there is a certain scale element that needs to be present before it becomes a practical proposition. Having said that, the whole overall concept of the architecture of IMS is really the important thing here. It’s the ability to be able to do that separation of the service creation environment and the delivery network, and keeping them separate, to be able to achieve that objective of actually delivering truly universal services.

That, I think, is the most valuable concept that any developing network can take away from this. Even anyone that is putting together even a relatively small network, if they’ve got large expansion ambitions, would be foolish not to adopt an IMS-like architecture.

RT: Who is leading the charge?

DG: Today, the most activity would be from the operators that have both fixed and mobile assets already in their networks. What’s actually driving that is the ultimate end goal of being able to deliver truly network-independent services, so you really have that user experience of being able to set up a call at home, for example, going over a wireless connection into your broadband, and being able to walk out the door and seamlessly roam onto the 3G network, without any apparent disruption in the call.

In order to actually achieve that level of handoff of services from one network to another, the first step is to get a truly converged network infrastructure in place. That is why we’re seeing more activity from those operators than from those that just have fixed assets or just mobile assets.

RT: Is the market changing?

DG: It’s maturing. We’ve seen a lot of early trials that have actually moved the whole specifications validation process forward. We’re seeing a phase now, particularly in the last 6-9 months, of a big increase in the number of RFIs and RFQs that are distinct moves away from pilot systems and into production systems, and what we’re seeing is a much greater demand for performance, and a much greater demand for resilience.

The performance is coming from a range of different areas. It comes from the increasing complexity of the types of functions that SBCs and IMS border elements have to carry out. For example, over and above what is actually happening on the border of the Network, as required from the specs, there’s a realization that Network A may not quite happily interface to Network B in order to handoff traffic, because the core switching elements have slightly different syntaxes in their SIP messaging. Thus, a certain level of intelligence is required as the calls are routed through the networks and across the borders in order to actually match the SIP signaling, for instance, from network to network.

So, there’s that level of complexity. And at the same time, these operators are actually moving away from hundreds and thousands of subscribers, to the pilot levels of hundreds of thousands of subscribers and the associated demands they’re actually placing on the networks.

These are not only pilots, though; they’re now production networks that are generating revenue, so they really have to stay up and keep running. They’re looking for all services to be delivered with consistent performance under all conditions.

Where we see this going is ultimate service reliability, and at the level that matches TDM-based networks.

RT: Is there anything you would like to add?

DG: The biggest thing I’ve seen in the last 12 months is the maturing of the market. That really is the key thing… the way this is actually developing and transitioning from the pilot level to the production level. We’re seeing constant encouraging signs from the RFI and RFQ activity that’s out there. It’s basically indicating that these types of architectures and these types of systems are actually taking hold and taking off, and are being deployed in an extremely robust and professional way.

For the whole VoIP industry, and for IMS itself, I think we’re only seeing good signs at the moment. IT

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