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What the heck's an inFRAnet?

Service providers view these next-generation business-class IP networks as a means to re-create themselves. This time, are corporations ready?

By , Network World
September 27, 2004 12:13 AM ET

Network World - If carriers were to create a business-class public IP infrastructure with guaranteed QoS, reliability and security, would corporations willingly pay to run their most demanding applications on top of it?

A recently formed industry group is betting on it. More than two-dozen vendors and service providers have banded together to create such a public IP infrastructure, dubbed infranet. The Infranet Initiative group includes global service providers such as AOL, British Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Level 3 Communications and Qwest; network gear vendors Ericsson, Juniper, Lucent and Polycom; and application and computing companies HP, IBM and Oracle. Enterprise organizations are noticeably absent from the roster.

The Infranet Initiative is Juniper's brainchild - a way for the company to help its customers, "rudderless" carriers, find direction, says Pradeep Sindhu, Juniper CTO. Juniper realized it would need to get carriers on a new course, one that took them away from their long-practiced "one application/one network" way of doing business "that's too costly and complex to persist for the long term," he says.

The ubiquitous, cost-effective Internet, on the other hand, provides the right, scalable foundation, Sindhu says. But for carriers looking to expand their premium service offerings, the Internet is too limiting in the types of applications it can support. It lacks the stringent QoS, reliability and security mechanisms needed for premium business services, he adds.

Applications that could benefit from the infranet approach include enterprise-wide VoIP requiring handoffs from one carrier's network to another's, inter-company peer-to-peer collaboration, utility computing and multi-provider VPNs, say members of the Infranet Initiative's leadership council (IIC).

A multi-provider VPN service would be ideal for a business traveler whose office is his PC, says Marco Limena, vice president of HP's Network and Service Provider Solutions unit and IIC member. No matter whether the traveler lands in Asia, Europe or Latin America, he would use the same procedures to access an IP network and would receive the same connectivity speeds, connection quality and security worldwide, he says.

With an infranet, a company would be able to contract for that consistent multi-carrier VPN service. Using specifications under development by Infranet Initiative members, carriers would be able to hand off calls seamlessly among themselves while a corporation would receive one bill and the user gets the same service characteristics - availability, cost, QoS - from anywhere he lands, Limena says.

Industry déjà vu

If this goal sounds familiar, it is. In the late 1990s, ISPs drummed up the concept of business-class Internet upon which they could offer premium services.

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