Acme Packet: 'We're building a signaling system for the Internet'

CEO Andy Ory on the secrets of 'opt-in communications,' the myth of unlimited bandwidth and his company's edge over Cisco and more

Not familiar with the terms "session border controller" or "session delivery network"? Don't worry. Andy Ory, CEO of fast-growing Bedford, Mass.-based Acme Packet, is more than happy to share his passionate vision of how SBCs and SDNs -- and the emerging era of "opt-in communications" -- will change your business and the world. In this installment of the IDG Enterprise CEO Interview Series, Ory spoke with IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant about how Acme Packet is bringing identity, security and control to the wilds of the Internet, and why the world's top carriers -- and a growing number of enterprise IT shops -- are relying on the company to reduce costs and develop a whole new generation of network services.

Your technology is widely used within service providers and, thus, widely used by enterprises, but Acme Packet might not be a company that IT leaders are really familiar with. Explain what a session border controller is, and what you mean by the concept of a session delivery network.

From a very high level -- and I'm going to make it a little simpler than it actually is -- the reason that the telephone system works is that it has a signaling system. A signaling system is like a series of traffic lights. Imagine that we go to New York City and we're sitting in Midtown at three o'clock in the afternoon in a cab. Now, let's say I have a little button, an app on my iPhone. I hit it and it turns off every traffic light in Midtown. What happens? We all grind to a halt. Nothing goes anywhere. If you remove a signaling system, all heck breaks loose, chaos ensues and nothing can go anywhere on the network. Well, we're building a signaling system for the Internet.

A session delivery network is an overlay network that has both signaling and media, but it's able to control, select, enforce and manage tasks, and manage the packets -- like the cars -- that are part of these flows. It provides things that the networks themselves can't. [With the Internet] you can't actually select an end-to-end path or enforce it. Why do you want to select an end-to-end path? Well, there may be quality, cost, source-based preferences. There are lots of reasons you may want to select something one way versus another. And then you want to manage it, police it. Just because you admit somebody onto the highway, you need to make sure that they only ship so much along that path, because you have a lot of other people sharing that path. If oversubscription ensues, things don't work, particularly with interactive communication. It's OK if it takes an extra 300 or 400 milliseconds for your email to download. It's not OK if that happens with interactive voice or video communication.

So we're building an overlay network for the global IP network so that things work, and that people can experience application service delivery that's consistent with what they normally expect in a circuit-switched world where the path is actually a physical path that's constrained and managed.

Can you put that into concrete terms for someone who's used to using the Internet for voice and all kinds of things these days? What does your technology do behind the scenes that they don't see?

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