Vendor alliance converges public and private networks

Vendor alliance converges public and private networks

GEORGE KOTELLY

AT&T Network Systems in Phoenix and Hewlett-Packard Co. in Santa Rosa, CA, are cooperating in the exploration of new types of public and private hybrid fiber/coaxial-cable and wireless networks that can deliver reliable and cost- effective multimedia information and interactive services.

Industry analysts contend that the move appears directed at providing comprehensive, turnkey, end-to-end broadband networks that come with all the needed hardware, software and applications. Because numerous methods of supplying interactive communications and services are available, analysts claim that these two companies are combining leading-edge communications and computer resources, skills, and products to establish interoperable network standards.

According to Larry Yokell, president of Convergence Industry Associates, a telecommunications and cable-TV consulting company in Boulder, CO, "The December agreement between AT&T Network Systems and Hewlett-Packard significantly fleshes out and strengthens the November agreement among AT&T Network Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Hybrid Networks. Together, these partners could develop a credible residential broadband data infrastructure for hybrid fiber/coaxial-cable networks that is cost-effective, reliable and interoperable.

"In addition, this team can provide cable operators with needed data traffic engineering, network management and system integration expertise. By providing end-to-end solutions, the partners will facilitate the cable industry`s vision of generating multibillion dollar revenue streams from high-speed access to the Internet via cable modems."

By purchasing intelligent networking solutions created by both companies, regional Bell operating companies, cable-TV companies and other communications and computer companies will be able to offer communications services such as Internet access, telecommuting, audio channels, distance learning and telemedicine.

As part of the joint effort, the companies intend to develop a common network scheme to construct worldwide intelligent architectures. Moreover, the companies plan to provide broadband interactive data networks such as platforms for high-speed online access, wireless network broadband service delivery systems and broadband enterprise networks. Each company is anticipated to focus on its core strengths and produce overall open-system solutions that are estimated to reach the market sooner and potentially address a broader market than would be possible without such cooperation.

"AT&T Network Systems and Hewlett-Packard are coming together to change what networks are and what they can do," says Carly Fiorina, president of AT&T Network Systems North America. "AT&T Network Systems` expertise in building smart communications networks meshes with Hewlett-Packard`s strengths in computing, test and measurement and client/server-based network environments. Both companies bring world-renowned technical and business skills to this relationship," adds Fiorina.

Says Willem Roelandts, senior vice president and general manager of Hewlett-Packard`s computer systems organization, "The two companies are building toward the network of the future using distributed intelligence. AT&T Network Systems and Hewlett-Packard will build seamless, self-healing, interoperable networks based on open standards and leading-edge measurement capabilities that are flexible and affordable for customers and network operators."

Under the agreement, the two companies intend to

Create a network software platform

Develop applications for software platforms

Develop technology and products for interactive television

Develop a joint offering for interactive broadband data networks that will contain network elements, computing systems, test instruments, cable-TV modems and network management and software technologies.

Mark Lutkowitz, president of Trans-formation Inc., a transmission equipment market consultancy in Birmingham, AL, says, "The memorandum of understanding between AT&T Network Systems and Hewlett-Packard is an example of a continuing trend in the telecommunications and computer industries in which major corporations are forming relationships to meet the increasingly complex demands of customers` broadband networks.

"Even the largest conglomerate cannot afford the expense of developing and manufacturing all of the foreseeable technological requirements by itself." He adds, "Also, during a time of massive downsizing, there is only so much talent within one entity to design the wide array of hardware, software and network management that will be needed in the future."

In addition, the companies are jointly developing a software platform for AT&T operation systems applications; creating an operation system for the cable-TV market to manage broadband data services; building a measurement platform for operation systems and establishing programs to service customer problems.

"This agreement with Hewlett-Packard allows us to rapidly offer our customers innovative solutions and advanced software applications for the fast-growing multimedia and interactive services markets," states Henry Schacht, chief executive-designate of the new systems and technology company that is planned to be spun off from AT&T this year (see Lightwave, November 1995, page 1).

To launch this initiative, AT&T Network Systems and Hewlett-Packard, along with Intel Corp. and Hybrid Networks Inc., established a broadband link team last November to develop and promote an open specification for interoperable cable modem and network products and services. They are aiming to define the communications protocols between cable modems in homes and central networking systems at the central office or headend.

The partners plan to move quickly on their efforts. They call for the network standard to be nailed down by press time. AT&T and Hewlett-Packard are scheduled to detail the networking management, billing, application and operational technologies; Hybrid Networks will supply headend equipment technology; and Intel will make modems compatible with interoperable standards.

According to information technology and enterprise network management consultant Ron Brown of Ronald O. Brown Consulting, Melrose, MA, "The agreement brings together a comprehensive set of enterprise-wide skills. The possibilities for synergy are endless. If management makes this work, the benefits for users will be enormous."

Adds Kevin Jones, broadband product manager at Hewlett-Packard in Cupertino, CA, "Cable-TV operators are frustrated by the lack of standards for transmitting data over cable. But they don`t want to invest in infrastructure when network standards have not been defined. They are expected to take the best parts of the work done by both AT&T Network Systems and Hewlett-Packard and combine them for a first-generation network standard."

Joint developments

Joint direction is headed toward accelerating the convergence of two communications domains--private and public networks. Some private network features-- management features, for instance--might be migrated to the public network domain. Large banks and financial institutions, for example, are seeking to link their diverse networks, computers and offices for higher speed, easier access, and tighter management and maintenance.

AT&T and Hewlett-Packard are cooperating on the development of a seamless backbone and broadband infrastructure. Because AT&T is the acknowledged leader in designing and providing public networks, it brings network switching and transmission skills to the joint effort. For its part, Hewlett-Packard is providing its extensive computer expertise in local area or private networks. Both companies have much expertise in these network arenas.

"Both companies are therefore merging the best of both local area (private) and public networking worlds, instead of colliding them," observes Jones. Until now, these networks were separate and noninteroperable domains.

Effort is also being focused on furnishing high-speed broadband networks that preserve the digital domain throughout a corporation`s enterprise, which today can consist of public and private networks, dispersed branches and remote offices. These networks are expected to carry numerous services, such as telecommuting, high-speed Internet access and remote access to distributed resources.

Fortune 1000 companies, for example, want to simplify their overall communications model and access local and widespread nodes at high speeds. Over time, they have structured an unwieldy distributed network node model that has become more than a local area network or a client/server communications model.

To that end, says Jones, "The new broadband networks must be able to work with existing or legacy networks, and even be able to build legacy networks into new solutions. In this manner, new services could be seamlessly overlaid on top of old networks via software additions.

"[Known as] `proxy agents,` these hardware and software overlays would rest on top of a legacy network element. They would allow network management software from the joint AT&T and Hewlett-Packard efforts to communicate with the existing network management platform and hide the idiosyncrasies of legacy transmission equipment and devices."

As for a timeline, the companies are going to nail down the specifications for sending data over cable by January; this will be a unified document written with Intel and Hybrid Networks and endorsed by Cablelabs, a research and development consortium of cable-TV system operators in Louisville, CO.

The management framework for data transmission over cable networks for multiple system operators and regional Bell operating companies should be available and delivered by mid-1996. The fast results are due to the fact that much of the joint work was done before the official public announcement, explains Jones. Approximately six months of work has already been done behind the scenes. The goal is to deliver in 1996 the tight integration of multiple-vendor network products and make a heterogeneous network function reliably and profitably for service providers.

Existing products from both companies have already been tightly coupled and integrated for delivery to network providers. The end-to-end network solution initially focuses on cable operators. As these operators move to interactive services, they need to revamp their infrastructures from simple one-way broadcast analog to richer interactive digital services.

Although they have installed advanced communications networks, independent telephone companies and the Bells will need new broadband network solutions to deliver interactive voice, video and data services. q

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