Start-Up Raises Bar on 'Net QoS

DUBLIN, IRELAND (08/28/2000) - Control and predictability are not synonymous with IP, but that's exactly what start-up QoS Networks is promising.

The company is building a worldwide IP network and launching guaranteed managed VPN services designed to let customers prioritize and better manage bandwidth.

The network will essentially parallel the Internet and offer users flexibility without the unpredictability of the public net, the company says.

While the network connects to the Internet, it's not an Internet backbone, which gives the service provider more control.

The start-up is not the first out of the gate with this idea, but the track is far from crowded. CoreExpress and SmartPipes, which launched earlier this year, are direct competitors. But each has a long row to hoe, and each is sowing a different set of seeds.

These service providers were born because of the limitations of managed VPN services from ISPs. Customers are generally required to keep all of their traffic on a single ISP's network, and quality-of-service enhancements are not easily found. QoS Networks, like its competitors, is specializing in IP quality-of-service offerings for the masses.

The company, headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, is building an extensive network it says will span five continents by early next year.

QoS Networks is not laying its own fiber like CoreExpress, but instead is buying network capacity from companies such as Global Crossing Ltd., says Jim Valentine, president and CEO of the company. The service provider is building data centers, which it calls Q-links, around the world. Each Q-link houses about six Lucent Technologies Inc. Access Point 1000 routers, TNT voice-over-IP switches and proprietary QoS Networks software, all connected to a Gigabit Ethernet network.

QoS Networks has also developed a Web interface for customers called Q-access, which lets users change bandwidth and prioritization schemes on the fly from their desktop.

But the Access Point 1000 routers are the heart and soul of the service. The routers support multiple quality-of-service technologies, such as class-based queuing (CBQ) and Differentiated Services (Diff-Serv). CBQ lets customers delegate how much bandwidth is dedicated to each VPN site and how to divvy up that bandwidth for specific applications, departments or users. Diff-Serv, an IETF specification, tags IP packets with various levels of prioritization. For instance, if a user is sending voice over a VPN, that traffic can always be given top priority, while HTTP traffic gets pushed to the bottom of the queue.

QoS Networks says these features will be guaranteed in service-level agreements (SLA), although specific metrics were not available at press time.

Because these services are just emerging, users have to be cautious when inking SLAs, says Joanna Makris, an analyst at The Yankee Group Inc. in Boston.

"Potential customers should ask for SLAs that not only cover uptime and latency, but also mean time to repair and guaranteed response time for service requests," she says. "Many SLAs aren't worth the paper they are printed on, so users should push for as much granularity in their guarantees as possible."

While the idea of buying IP services that offer users an extra level of control may be nirvana for some, overall demand is hard to predict. "There is one big question that hasn't been answered about value-added VPN services, and that's pricing," says David Passmore, research director at The Burton Group Corp., a Sterling, Va., consulting firm.

It's great to offer more predictability, but if the services cost 10 times as much as managed VPN offerings, then the services and companies will fail, he says.

"We will not be a price leader," says QoS Networks' Valentine. "But because of our network architecture, we are reasonably priced."

One selling point the service provider is pushing is that it's not requiring long-term contracts. In fact, QoS Networks is encouraging customers to sign only monthly contracts. "Our view is, if you don't like the service, don't use it," Valentine says.

Although QoS Networks primarily plans to team with service providers to sell its offerings, large businesses can also buy services directly. The start-up has already drummed up $100 million in funding from Warburg Pincus & Co., Soros Private Equity Partners, Global Crossing, Signal Lake Venture Fund, Lucent and GE Capital.

QoS Networks will officially launch at NetWorld+Interop in Atlanta next month, but Valentine says the firm will have paying customers on its network beginning Sept. 1.

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More about Burton GroupCoreExpressGE Capital AustraliaGlobal CrossingIETFInteropLucentLucent TechnologiesQoS NetworksSmartPipesSoros Private Equity PartnersTNT AustraliaYankee Group

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