Internet dreams

The Internet Protocol has become the standard technology for building networks and bridging voice and data services. As agency

officials continue to implement IP networks, companies ranging from traditional network providers to telecommunications carriers are leaping in with new products and research initiatives.

The acceleration comes as IPv6 is poised to replace the previous version, IPv4.

Marconi Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Network Equipment Technologies Inc. and AT&T serve as examples of a rapidly growing phenomenon.

Marconi has opened a research and development facility outside Boston to focus on a new family of products. The center will complement ongoing engineering work at the company's facilities in Vienna, Va., and Pittsburgh.

Engineers at the new center will develop a platform that will provide virtual private networks (VPNs) for critically important applications and will be based in part on technology that Marconi got when it acquired Crescent Networks last year, said Gerry Kolosvary, president of Marconi Communications Federal Inc., a subsidiary of Marconi Corp.

"We're looking at bringing new IP services into the market," Kolosvary said. The products will include support for IPv6 and IP/Multiprotocol Label Switching, which are "attributes the government is interested in," he said.

Marconi got more than technology from the Crescent acquisition. The company also got James Luciani, who is leading the research work. Luciani was chief technology officer and vice president of product management at Crescent.

"Marconi is making a firm commitment to delivering world-class IP service platforms to the marketplace," he said.

The acquisition is playing a significant role in Marconi's move into the IP network field, Kolosvary said.

"It adds excellent entrepreneurial engineering talent to an already strong lineup of engineers," he said. "It does this without diverting from our existing programs. It's really given us what I call a military-grade router that begins to fill in the void in some products that are out there today."

The new center "is going to be the fountainhead of IP engineering within Marconi," Kolosvary said. "We're looking at integrating various IP capabilities from this research center into our existing products."

The latest next big thing

IP, particularly the emerging Version 6, has captured government officials' imaginations in a big way. IPv6 will transmit data faster than Version 4. Defense Department officials are already beginning to plan for transitioning department systems to IPv6.

And although IP itself is not all it could be, it is the only important network standard, primarily because it's an open standard that no one company owns, unlike other network technologies, said Jonathan Eunice, president and principal analyst at Illuminata Inc.

IP "is only fair to middling as a network protocol," he said. "It has a lot of inefficiencies baked into it. Things that a lot of other proprietary protocols got right and made efficient, IP is still not so good at."

Eunice pointed to IBM Corp.'s Systems Network Architecture and Digital Equipment Corp.'s DECnet as examples. They can provide superior quality of service and speed, he said.

"And we're going through a decade or more transition to IPv6 because the original designers [of IP] didn't put enough bits into their addressing scheme," he said.

"But none of those nits really matter, because IP was good enough 90 percent or more of the time," Eunice said. "And it's provided a standard, a common language that all players and all platforms — large and small, foreign and domestic — can depend on and interoperate with. And that has made all the difference."

There used to be a difference between the technologies used to create local-area, metropolitan-area and wide-area networks, said John Winters, vice president of worldwide sales and service at Network Equipment Technologies. "IP is blurring that so much."

IP is a technology of convergence, said Joe Faranetta, director of dedicated IP services at AT&T.

"If the economy hadn't had such a sour turn for a couple of years, this development would have happened faster," he said. "Things were happening very explosively in the late 1990s, and that's when people realized it would be critical. Even through all that bad time, we've seen a steady

migration."

AT&T officials are offering service-level guarantees for IP services, he said. Company officials have also created the Voice-over-IP Innovation and Interoperability Program to foster the development of new applications.

IP and particularly voice applications are filtering all the way down to consumers, said Katherine Bagin, vice president of voice-over-IP product marketing and development at AT&T.

"In April of last year, I couldn't even find an analyst report or a mention of the residential marketplace" for voice over IP, she said. "Within the last year and a half, [there's been an] explosion in the residential space."

Cisco makes routers secure

Cisco officials released a new line of IP-based routers with built-in voice and security features last month. Because the features are integrated rather than dependent on external hardware they are faster, company officials said.

The integrated security should be particularly attractive to federal customers, said Jeanne Dunn, senior director of product marketing at Cisco.

"The traditional approach would allow intrusion into the network before [the security system] stops it," she said. "If you can integrate these things into the router itself, [the attack] doesn't even get into the network. The federal government is very big on secure" VPNs.

Some of Cisco's high-end products have similar capabilities, she said. "In the past, you had to buy pretty far up into the product line to do this," she said. "Now we're able to deliver it to the masses" at lower prices.

Integration is key

Although IP promises to be the technology of the future, it hasn't always been that way. IP networks often have to work with older

networks built on asynchronous transfer mode or other older technologies.

"Anything coming off the shelf is going to be IP," said John Winters, vice president of worldwide sales and service at Network Equipment Technologies Inc. The company has been in business long enough that it supports older network systems in its products, he said.

"IP has long since become the de facto standard around which everybody is developing and innovating," said Dave Frampton, senior director of product management in Cisco€s Multiservice Customer Edge Business Unit, which oversees the upper end of the company€s Access router product line. "We do see legacy protocols out there, and being able to merge those into the network is still important to many of our customers. But the future is definitely IP."

One challenge is integrating IP networks with older circuit-based telephony systems, Winters said. The two approaches are fundamentally different in their details.

IP is connectionless, meaning there does not need to be a connection established between the sender and receiver before data packets can be transferred, for example. However, network architects have to grapple with issues such as how to account for data packet loss when the circuit-oriented system doesn€t understand packets at all.

Not all systems can be replaced with IP, so the rapid spread of IP means integration with other systems will be needed more and more.

IP is growing "like the growth of the original telephone network a hundred years ago," said Joe Faranetta, director of dedicated IP services at AT&T. "It€s tremendously pervasive, and because it touches pretty much everybody, it€s tremendously economical."

— Michael Hardy

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