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‘Flattened’ networks, creative pricing drives bigger DPI boxes


Sandvine this week rolled out a new version of its deep packet inspection (DPI) box with significantly increased throughput density, saying service providers need more capacity to deal with growing data traffic and more sophisticated, policy-driven pricing and traffic management approaches.

The vendor’s new Policy Traffic Switch 24000 (PTS 24000) features throughput of up to 60 Gb/s per box, growing to 240 Gb/s in a four-machine cluster. That triples the capacity of its previous largest platform, the PTS 14000, which can manage up to 80 Gb/s when clustered.

The new box runs the same underlying software as earlier platforms, including Sandvine’s Fairshare application, which lets service providers and MSOs – perhaps most notably Comcast in the US – manage traffic on their networks. Sandvine did not say whether Comcast is using the new, bigger DPI box, instead announcing two, unnamed European operators as the first deployments of the PTS 2400 – one a fixed/wireline operator with 20 million mobile customers and a tier-one service provider with one million subscribers.

“The main focus here is on TCO [total cost of ownership] relating to density,” said Sandvine CTP Don Bowman. “This product is six times as dense on throughput and 14 times as dense on port density [than Sandvine’s previous products]. It’s really aimed at the very largest customers that will use the product for aggregation. They can have a lot less box count on the network. The challenge we were running into was needing too many boxes to solve the very high bandwidth needs of some of the largest carriers.”

In addition to increased raw throughput and processing power, the bigger boxes can help reduce power, cooling and maintenance costs, Bowman said.

Changes in how service providers deploy and use DPI boxes are forcing the move to bigger platforms.

For starters, “networks are flattening out a bit,” Bowman said, adding that carriers are deploying DPI boxes today “on one spot out on the edge and at one spot in the core but not in the middle of the network, where we used to be in.”

Perhaps more obviously, increased use of rich media – especially on mobile networks – is driving the need not only for more throughput on DPI boxes but greater use of DPI to implement creative, policy-driven traffic and usage management scenarios, Bowman said. “Certainly, the work the box does is quite a bit different in 2009 than in 2004. In the earliest days, we saw things like aggregate traffic management, layering on security and network demographics reporting,” he said. “Today, it’s a lot more about usage management, interfaces to external billing systems and the ability to manage a lot more real-time events.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Bowman said he sees the most opportunity in areas where broadband growth has slowed or is mature enough to have stalled completely. In rapidly growing markets – relative greenfields like India, China or Columbia – service provider focus is on deploying the network, not fine-tuning it. In low-growth markets, like the US and Canada, there’s some focus on managing the network, but so far it’s mostly about understanding network demographics and subscriber behavior in an aggregate sense, in part to help with capacity planning and to a lesser extent to drive fairly simple service segmentation.

Where it’s getting really interesting, Bowman said, is in totally mature, flat broadband markets -- places like Singapore and Japan -- where the focus is on understanding and optimizing individual user behavior so as to reduce costly customer churn. In such areas, operators use DPI and policy boxes in very sophisticated ways to segment the market in a very fine-grained fashion and to create loyalty/incentive tiers and programs to keep churn at a minimum, he said.


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