Service assurance specialist Netsocket unveiled a new direction Monday with the launch of what it claims is the first “completely virtualized SDN solution” and a full-on assault on the next-generation edge router market.
At the heart of the company’s software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) toolset is some core router code originally developed by Chiaro Networks (1997-2005), one of a number of core router startups that tried and failed to challenge the likes of Cisco Systems Inc. and Juniper Networks Inc. in the heart of telecom operator IP backbones.
Now Netsocket, which was founded by a bunch of former Chiaro executives, is using that code in its SDN suite. And at the heart of the company’s pitch is the promise that data networks can be built and extended using standard servers, commodity layer 2 switches and free software without the need for proprietary routing platforms.
That’s the very proposition that got network operators excited about the potential of SDN to enable the construction and operation of more cost-efficient and flexible networks that are more adaptable to modern data networking requirements.
So, essentially, Netsocket is saying companies can save money and become more operationally efficient if they build or extend their data networks using its software and standard hardware rather than systems from the likes of Cisco.
Of course, we’ve heard this before. But Netsocket has something that many other pretenders don’t have in their technology locker — integrated, virtualized packet routing capabilities.
(At least one industry analyst believes Netsocket’s offering might hit the wall not at the virtual routing and switching level but at the management layer, but more on this later.)
So what has Netsocket developed?
The vendor’s proposition, the Netsocket Virtual Network, is aimed at enterprises of all sizes and at communications service providers (CSPs) that offer data services to the enterprise market. It comprises a range of software tools, designed to run on standard x86 servers that provide SDN and NFV functionality, a range of management capabilities and interoperability with existing networks.
The company’s virtual infrastructure consists of two networking elements that run on Microsoft Corp.’s Hyper-V hypervisor — the vFlowSwitch and the vFlowController, with communication between the two elements via Netsocket’s vFlow or the OpenFlow SDN protocol. The controller element has routing, VPN and security components (vRouter, vTunnel and vFirewall) that, claims Netsocket, can interoperate with legacy networks using Intermediate System to Intermediate System (IS-IS), Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) and Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), all widely deployed interworking protocols.
Now, a virtual router is not something that just any company can build in-house, and Netsocket claims it’s the first company to have a carrier-class router built into its controller.
But the Netsocket team says it has been able to do this using the intellectual property it brought on board from the remains of core router startup Chiaro in 2007, which pumped more than US$100 million into its R&D processes between the late 1990s and 2005.
That Netsocket inherited Chiaro’s technology went unreported following the core router vendor’s demise as, according to Netsocket, the intellectual property was subject to a “silent transaction/transfer.” (That might come as a surprise to those that thought Chiaro’s assets ended up at ECI Telecom.)
Netsocket’s suite doesn’t end there, though. It also includes a centralized management tool (the vNetCommander) for “automated installation, provisioning and orchestration of the network,” and a service assurance tool (the vNetOptimizer) for “network service analytics, automation and optimization of the network.”
In the coming months the company plans to launch APIs that hook the vFlowController into OpenStack and Microsoft System Center applications. It will also support other hypervisors, such as KVM, ESXi and Xen.
In an effort to stimulate uptake and to get potential customers to try out its new offer, Netsocket is offering the vFlowSwitch and the vFlowController for free, along with basic version of the vNetCommandertool (for up to five locations).
Tricia Hosek, VP of products and marketing, says the company wants to build as broad a base of early adopters as possible and then build a business around applications such as vNetOptimizer and the full version of vNetCommander. “We’re putting our faith in enterprises wanting to grow their networks using centralized orchestration,” she tells Light Reading.
Netsocket has been testing its suite with about 30 beta user organizations of various sizes sourced through Spiceworks. Dave Corley, NetSocket’s director of product management, claims some beta users have been able to download the software, load it and then configure and activate a network in about 30 minutes.
Corley says Netsocket’s service assurance experience has given it invaluable insight into the problems network operators face and has fed that know-how into its SDN suite. He’s also adamant that Netsocket has approached SDN with the operations and business needs of customers in mind “rather than as a technology pitch.”
That’s why being able to deploy alongside and work with existing (or “legacy”) networks is so important, says Hosek: “We know about migration processes and we know people won’t rip out their existing network,” she says.
Bold move, new direction
The move into SDN and NFV is a gutsy one, reckons Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Sterling Perrin.
“I think this is a bold move from Netsocket for a couple of reasons. First, it is a major change in direction for them and a big departure from their previous service assurance product set. We don’t often see startups receive funding and use it to reinvent the company.” (See Netsocket Secures $9.2 Million.)
“Second, the new business model itself is bold. They are going to give away the network infrastructure and focus their business model entirely on creating applications that run on top of the network infrastructure. So, the first round of the product launch will be to populate networks with their virtualized infrastructure, and their second round will be about selling revenue generating applications,” he notes.
“NFV is a big trend that Netsocket is jumping on here,” adds Perrin, noting that the “network virtualization” tag is more general than the focus of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV group, “it’s essentially the same thing. Clearly, operators want NFV. Many incumbent suppliers will be hesitant to commoditize their own hardware businesses, so startups and software specialists may be the ones who push the accelerator on NFV innovation and introduction,” states the analyst.
The legacy challenge
But while it may be bold, Netsocket’s plan also faces some major challenges.
Perrin’s Heavy Reading colleague, Senior Analyst Caroline Chappell, believes the interworking with legacy network management systems remains as the main hurdle for Netsocket if it wants to be adopted in large networks, according to Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Caroline Chappell.
“The challenge is whether Netsocket can persuade customers not only to use the SDN controller itself but also the accompanying OSS layer – the vNetCommander and vNetOptimizer management applications,” states Chappell. “Anyone running a network will have existing OSS systems that are not standalone and easy to rip and replace – they are tightly integrated with BSS, service catalogs and existing processes and it’s a very large task to untangle these integrations and to migrate to a completely new OSS. Equally, it’s difficult to adapt existing OSS [software] to work with an SDN controller approach – hence there’s something of a stand-off in the industry when it comes to SDN in the wide area network.”
That issue could hold up Netsocket’s progress, believes the analyst, even if it is offering its core elements for free. “I don’t expect Netsocket to be disruptive overnight, despite its business model,” says Chappell.