The demands of multimedia services and IMS traffic management are at the heart of F5 Networks Inc.'s latest product release for service providers.
Released this week, F5's BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) is designed to enable IP services to scale, as carriers deploy more rich multimedia applications and migrate toward an IMS infrastructure. If F5 is right, the BIG-IP device will help ensure multimedia applications, and networks will be able to scale to millions of users while maintaining reliability and creating an intelligent, end-to-end service delivery network.
Service providers are integrating advanced, real-time multimedia applications -- voice, video and other capabilities -- to find new revenue streams. Unfortunately, providers are forced to build up a new siloed infrastructure for each application they roll out over legacy gear, according to Mike Krasnow, product marketing manager for F5. IMS unifies these applications, making it easier for them to deploy more new services, he said.
"Two of the biggest problems faced by service providers are scalability and interoperability," said Mark Seery, vice president of switching and routing at telecom research firm Ovum RHK. "The ability to virtualize processing over multiple service control and application services provides both scalability and high availability."
BIG-IP performs application-layer switching for SIP, RTSP and SCTP to provide scalability and high availability. Support for connection-based SCTP devices like signaling gateways enables BIG-IP to provide intelligent traffic management for service providers' migration from circuit-switched to packet-switched networks.
Built on F5's TMOS platform, powered by iRules customization capabilities and high-performance proxy, BIG-IP LTM can act as a translator to overcome interoperability challenges and application issues in IMS networks. TMOS also adds security to IMS, including a full TCP and application proxy, optimized IP stacks and vertical network segmentation. The iRules technology allows SIP, RTSP and SCTP packets to be inspected, transferred and redirected with flexibility, solving application problems and bridging interoperability challenges.
"Converged networks represent a great opportunity for service providers to grow, but they also require applications that meet the high quality demanded by users," said F5 director of product management Jason Needham. He added that carriers are hoping to capture new revenue and deploy multimedia services over existing and future IMS infrastructures.
Local Traffic Manager's key features include:
- Improved availability of multimedia applications -- IMS-ready, intelligent load balancing for equipment like application servers, and call session controllers for high availability, which allows carriers to scale their applications and IMS networks efficiently.
- Flexibility for multimedia application delivery -- LTM's full proxy and F5 iRules offer a single point to manage multimedia application delivery, inspecting and transforming traffic at the connection level to help fix internetworking problems.
- Enhanced IMS infrastructure security -- BIG-IP LTM recognizes common IP attacks against the network and applications and blocks them before they reach critical applications and servers. Encryption offload lets applications servers dedicate resources to the application with no processing cost to the core signaling servers.
- QoS for multimedia applications -- with multimedia rate shaping, service providers can select which applications have priority and allocate bandwidth accordingly.
- Carrier class hardware -- the BIG-IP platform uses carrier-class devices with NEBS compliant options, DC and redundant power supply options and redundant failover configurations, giving carriers options to meet specific network demands.
Tackling IMS challenges
"The newness of both IMS protocols and the IMS service delivery architecture provides numerous interoperability and system integration challenges," Ovum's Seery said. "The ability to correct protocol and logic problems in a matter of hours, as opposed to the longer release schedules of a typical IMS component, is of significant benefit to service providers, especially during this time of transition."
Holland said putting BIG-IP in front of streaming servers helps him with load balancing. Rhythm NewMedia uses RTSP, which he dubbed a "strange protocol." Added to that, each carrier uses a different version of it, but LTM helps ensure that all traffic is sent to the right server and back out to the right client. Using iRules, Holland said he can manipulate packet headers and normalize traffic regardless of the method carriers use to deliver information.
"The back end handles the differences," he said. "It simplifies the whole thing."
Krasnow said the goal of LTM is to "make sure the application is delivered well, that it's fast and that it's secure and scalable." He added that service providers are struggling with the complexity and interoperability of applications and working to migrate from and interoperate between legacy and IMS.
Sergio Verduci, F5 product manager, said complexity will only increase as more service providers start building out IMS infrastructure.
"The demand is starting to build a little bit more, but hasn't really started to take off," he said. "But it will."