News | May 7, 1999

N+I 1999: NetCore' VISTA Delivers Business-Class VPNs

Netcore Systems extends the market reach of its 2.5 terabit per second "monster switch," originally intended to feed the growth of the Internet, with a clever software extension that addresses VPN service offerings.

By: John Spofford

NetCore Systems Inc., a developer of large scale Internet switching technology, will debut Everest VISTA, a software product that enables carriers and Internet service providers to create business-class virtual private networks (VPNs) within the public Internet protocol (IP) backbone.

VISTA (Virtual IP Service and Transport Administration) enables the company's Everest Integrated Switch, a terabit-scale switch/router, to function as numerous individual routers, which partition off segments of the Internet to form independent networks on an as-needed basis. This creates secure IP connections for private corporate applications to provide a low-cost alternative to leased-line or frame relay wide-area networks.

A year's progress
A year ago at N+I, the Wilmington, MA-based startup pulled the wraps off its Everest Integrated Switch. The Everest is a carrier-class, multilayer switch that integrates wire-speed IP routing with asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) switching on each of its ports, while remaining fully compatible with existing ATM products.

The combination of ATM and IP makes the Everest perfect for VPNs. According to John Shaw, vice president of marketing at NetCore. IP and ATM traffic is integrated as data comes into the switch, which reshapes IP into what is essentially an extended ATM user network interface. This allows the company to create ATM quality of service based on IP-based policies.

"This allows us to create business-class [Internet] services. Not just priority type services but also bandwidth-guaranteed services that can be mapped to individual flows," Shaw says.

"Enterprise customers should look for this new generation of VPN from service providers: a service that falls between a managed service where the service provider comes onto the premise and owns the router and more, and a basic Internet VPN where the provider assumes you run a firewall and they just move your bits.

"With VISTA, service providers will still provide cost-effective packet transport, but will also be providing partitions that are secure and transparent from other customers, while being visible to and custom managed by the service provider," he says

"One of the key differentiators that NetCore's Everest provides is the ability to map ATM and frame relay [virtual circuits] to IP-defined VPNs," said John Freedman, principal analyst at Current Analysis (Sterling, VA). "VISTA will give enterprise customers and service providers alike a tremendous degree of flexibility in their VPN roll-outs."

In practice, enterprise customers not only receive their own piece of the bandwidth via ATM virtual circuits, but also their own piece of the router—their own routing table partition and IP address/numbering space. Customers may also be given a choice of routing protocol, including OSPF, IS-IS or BGP, without the use of firewalls.

Little company versus giants
In terms of market strategy, the VISTA product opens up service-enabling opportunities for NetCore, and moves the company beyond just fulfilling power routing requirements. "We are going to make public IP services not just bigger, but better able to handle customer-specific business applications," Shaw says.

This is important for NetCore because the market for large switches that comprise the core of the Internet is dominated by companies such as Ascend Communications (Alameda, CA) and Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA). It simply is not possible for a tiny startup to compete head-to-head with the industry giants

"VISTA is a good example of how we differentiate ourselves from the more basic, dumb-iron 'terabit routers' that are competing on how big they can get," Shaw says. He characterizes these routers as "science experiments or Cray supercomputers" that often have capabilities well beyond the reality of the mainstream market.

NetCore's strategy is one of not staying in the core of the service provider network if only because today's core technology always moves closer to the network edge a few months later. However, what the company is not doing with its VISTA announcement is moving into the enterprise equipment market. The Everest switch and VISTA software clearly are targeted at major carriers and Internet service providers.

"I would expect us to have products that fit that [enterprise equipment] market as our roadmap evolves and the enterprise bandwidth requirements continue to expand—driven by cheaper optical services," Shaw explains. "In that case, a small Everest switch could serve as backbone corporate infrastructure with VISTA providing a super-VLAN/VWAN capability at the backbone level."

NetCore Systems will demonstrate both Everest VISTA and Everest Integrated Switch at Networld+Interop Booth # 8619.