Juniper Networks Inc. Wednesday announced the formation of an organization that endorses the company's stated goal of creating a profitable public IP network.
The so-called Infranet Initiative Council combines large companies from various facets of the computer and communications industries, including IBM Corp.; Oracle Corp.; Juniper channel partners Lucent Technologies Inc., Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Siemens AG; and service providers BT Group PLC and Orange SA. Sources say the IIC will also include a large U.S. carrier - which some speculate may be MCI - as well as international service providers Deutsche Telekom AG, Telstra Corp. Ltd. and an unidentified carrier in the Asia Pacific region.
Notably absent is Cisco Systems Inc. Cisco did not comment by press time.
The IIC fleshes out Juniper's "call to action" last autumn to unite the industry around a common vision for public networking that attempts to resolve some shortcomings the vendor says are inherent in the Internet. Juniper is proposing the definition of two interfaces - a user-to-network interface between customers and service providers, and a so-called inter-carrier interface between service providers - that will facilitate the construction of an "infranet" combining the ubiquitous connectivity of the Internet with the predictable performance and security of a private network.
The IIC hopes that this infranet will ultimately provide the global infrastructure required to support machine-to-machine grid computing, unlock the full potential of Web-enabled applications and finally usher in the era of the online economy.
"The Internet of today is a fantastic development enabling people to communicate in new ways," says Brian Levy, group technology officer for Service & Solutions at BT Group. "Today's Internet, however, has its limitations; it does not provide any quality-of-service guarantees, making it inappropriate for many business applications. High-bandwidth services are also a problem."
In a whitepaper on the IIC's raison d'etre, CIMI President Tom Nolle says the Internet is essentially a failed business model for service providers.
"With the unit cost per bit of fiber transport approaching zero, it is clear that selling bits can never be a stable business model no matter what purpose those bits serve," Nolle states in his paper. "Creating IP services to replace frame or ATM services will not relieve the downward pressure on cost of bandwidth, nor the downward trend in revenue opportunities."
Instead, carriers need to sell services "higher on the food chain," Nolle states. The IIC recognizes that networking must marry the network and the application, so the network doesn't become a commoditized conduit, he states.
The IIC is proposing a network/application framework based on business-related "strata," according to Nolle's paper. The "Control Stratum" and "Data Stratum" represent the protocol-linked connection and transport layers of the network, while the "Signaling Stratum" is analogous to the application layer of the OSI model.
The model also includes a "trust barrier" at the infranet edge for security, and user authentication and access.
Juniper's announcement of the IIC and its members is a bit of an anti-climax, according to Chris Nicoll, an analyst at Current Analysis.
"I think they should have started off with this type of council when they started the Infranet Initiative" last fall, Nicoll says. "I don't think it did Juniper a lot of good to make the announcement without the strong backing of at least its channel partners, and ideally a couple of its key service provider customers. The council that they're putting together now is not unexpected; I think it's overdue."
Nonetheless, Nicoll says it's high time someone or something catalyzed the industry to come up with a way to churn profit from public IP services.
"The Internet, the IP networks, really need to evolve their personality into more of a business-class operation," Nicoll says. "Infranet is Juniper's way of doing it; I'm sure Cisco will come up with their own way of doing it. But it points to a common need that the service providers have.
"We've got to get beyond the concept that the network ends at the router and get deeper into both the enterprise networks but also into the applications," Nicoll says. "So you've got to commend Juniper on the breadth of this council. I just think it should have started off this way."