VPN SLA management to be addressed

For those enterprises intrigued by IP (Internet Protocol) VPNs (virtual private networks) but worried about service-level agreements or quality of service, help is on the way.

A group of service providers, equipment vendors, end users and industry "experts" will soon announce that they're kicking off an initiative to tackle the IP VPN SLA management problem. The group was orchestrated by Sirius , which develops service-level management software that's just starting up U.S. operations in the Dallas area. Sirius is already a known commodity over in Europe, where Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG is its biggest customer.

The problem with IP VPNs, as Sirius Chief Operating Officer (COO) Ken Davis sees it, is that there are no service level metrics like there are for frame relay and ATM. So there's really nothing to measure right off the bat.

Also, IP routers are inherently blind to class-of-service, Davis claims. High priority traffic is funneled - or tunneled -through OK, but lower priority traffic can sit idle in buffer memory for hours at a time, he says.

Cisco recently announced router software designed to add and enforce QoS to MPLS-based VPNs but this, apparently, is not a panacea.

Speaking of Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) - and the third reason it's difficult to measure service levels in IP VPNs - it works fine with today's IP routers but it does not work with legacy telecom gear, Davis says. So end-to-end tunneling, QoS and SLA definition and enforcement with MPLS in IP VPNs is not a given.

Much has been written in the past about how QoS cannot be guaranteed or enforced in VPNs because the encryption used in VPN tunnels stifles the bits that hold priority markings. Vendors have their own unique methods of exposing those bits in encrypted tunnels but a multivendor approach did not exist.

According to Davis, the issue, if not the specific problem, is still alive.

This IP VPN SLA management initiative will be announced before the Telemanagement World show in Las Vegas in mid-October, Davis says. So far, four "large" service providers, six equipment manufacturers, three end-users and two industry "experts" have enlisted, he says, though he declined to name them.

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