Juniper Networks Inc. this week disclosed an ambitious plan 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's Infranet Initiative seeks to develop two interfaces -- a user-to-network interface between customers and service providers, and a so-called inter-carrier interface between service providers -- that adhere to a set of interconnection standards that establish a "lowest common denominator" required for implementation. Today, equipment vendors and service providers can build from an array of standard and non-standard interconnection schemes that, when implemented differently, disrupt interoperability and service consistency.
When interconnecting via these two new interfaces, customers and service providers will construct an "infranet" that combines the ubiquitous connectivity of the Internet with the predictable performance and security of a private network, Juniper claims. This infranet will then 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 company boasts.
Juniper's table pounding is not unique. Scores of vendor-initiated "calls to action" have come and gone over the past 20 years, all under the guise of altruism. Most, however, turned out to be vendor-motivated, and produced little more than enough press releases to wallpaper the Pentagon and embarrassing admissions that the efforts petered out.
But some analysts think Juniper might have something here. Though only beleaguered business partner Lucent Technologies Inc. is on board now, they believe Juniper partners Siemens AG and Ericsson Communications Ltd. might climb on board.
"I think it has teeth, but I think the teeth that it has initially are as much political as technical," says Tom Nolle, president of consultancy CIMI Corp. in Voorhees, New Jersey. "We have to take a look at the question of whether the current standardization process launched and controlled by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) is completely responsive to the needs of non-Internet Internet Protocol applications. Then we have to say, 'Is the technology of the products compatible with these applications?'"
Juniper argues that the technology is here now; what's missing is collaboration in the industry on how best to implement it to achieve this application-aware, service-granular infranet. Current peering relationships between service providers and service-level contracts between customers and service providers fall short of the Infranet Initiative goal because service assurances cannot be guaranteed across peering arrangements, and certain types of traffic cannot be granted a greater level of treatment, the company says.
So Juniper is proposing "selectively open" connections between carriers, defined by common standards such as MPLS, Resource Reservation Protocol and the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, that "support and reward the delivery of advanced services, such as content distribution and virtual private networks" globally, vs. a carrier's own physical network.
Juniper did not provide a timeframe for completion of the Infranet Initiative UNI or inter-carrier interface. The company also said it would welcome Cisco Systems Inc.'s participation but had not yet contacted its rival.
Cisco did not immediately respond to an inquiry on its position regarding the Infranet Initiative.
So why will this vendor-driven effort to galvanize the industry succeed where others have failed?
"I think there is a very good chance that this is going to succeed because of political reasons," Nolle says. "Juniper has the backing on this of its worldwide partners. These partners are principally focusing on the common carrier community. The fact that all of these people are backing this initiative is a very strong indication that the common carrier community is backing this initiative. If the buyers and the sellers collectively agree that this is the right answer, this becomes the right answer by default."