After two years of being in stealth mode, 128 Technology came out of hiding this week and is making a bold claim—that they can fix the way the internet works.
128 Technology is led by Andy Ory, former CEO of Acme Packet, another Massachusetts-based company that was headquartered only a few miles from where 128 Technology is located. Also, many of the current employees of 128 Technology are former Acme Packet employees.
Other than physical location, there are a couple of other similarities between 128 Technology and Acme Packet. First, the names of the companies are equally non-descriptive of what they do. Second, and more important, Acme was one a pioneer in the session border control (SBC) market, which redefined how multimedia traffic moved across networks. 128 Technology is trying to do something similar with all network traffic.
It took the SBC market a long time to emerge and handle many skeptics, but Ory and his team stuck with it and were proven right, as the company was eventually sold to Oracle for $2.1 billion. I suspect given all the focus on software-defined networking (SDN), network function virtualization (NFV) and other trends that are trying to change the way networks operate, 128’s ramp might be a bit faster than Acme’s was.
Limitations with today's IP networks
So, what’s broken with IP networks? The answer is nothing—but really everything. Today’s networks work exactly as they were designed—almost almost 50 years ago now. IP packets are sent into a router, which looks up where to direct the packet and sends it on its merry way. The next packet comes in and could take an entirely different route, as routers are always computing the “shortest path” as measured by a combination or metrics, such as congestion, latency, etc.
This has many limitations that the industry has built a bunch of workarounds for. That’s why we have load balancers, firewalls, network address translation, deep packet inspection, MPLS and several other technologies. Here is where the problem is: Whenever a network needs to be changed, sometimes one or maybe all of these need to be touched, and performance is often still degraded because the “shortest path” may not be the best path.
Routers need to be more than packet-pushers
128 Technology is trying to make networks “session aware” and deterministic. What that means is routers can’t simply be packet pushers and take a packet in and forward it on to the next hop. Right now packets are sent off everywhere and then reassembled when they reach the destination. Any packets going down a bad path are marked as lost and then retransmitted. This can be hell on networks and can cause significantly more traffic to be sent than is necessary. All of those other devices are needed to help regulate the traffic.
A session-aware, deterministic router can monitor all inbound and outbound traffic and be able to send all traffic from the same session down a particular path and then keep track of it. That will improve the quality of transmission and make networks faster without the need for many of the other devices that customers buy today. This should also make it easier to find problems and fix them, since there’s no need to continually run traceroutes and pings to figure out where traffic is going.
The product is also highly secure, as it’s built on a zero trust model, which is the opposite of IP. Traditional networks are built on a concept of every device being able to access every other device. 128 Technology incorporates segmentation into their scheme and is based on a privacy model.
This technology isn’t for everyone—at least not yet—so 128 Technology is focusing on large enterprises, cloud providers and ISPs. All of those types of companies face to lose a lot when network performance suffers. These are all companies that Acme sold into before so the company was fully aware of the challenges in these organizations.
One other interesting point about the company is that while it has raised $36 million in venture funding, it is 78 percent owned by the 65 employees.
There’s certainly no shortage of vendors claiming to change the way networks operate today. The question for 128 Technology is: can its solution rise above the noise of everyone else? The best way to do this is through customer wins. Time will tell how good its solution is, but the company certainly has history on its side.