The biggest bandwidth pigs these days may be streaming Web video and audio sites, not peer-to-peer applications.
YouTube videos alone account for around 10% of all Internet traffic, according to an estimate by Ellacoya Networks (now part of Arbor Networks).
Meanwhile, as Comcast discovered, selectively blocking P2P packets won't fly as a bandwidth-management technique. The Federal Communications Commission is probing whether the practice violated its Internet management policy, and the operator has since pledged to collaborate with peer-to-peer companies.
The bigger issue remains: How will broadband providers handle the ever-growing demand from Internet video, P2P and other applications?
Procera Networks is among the vendors pitching a solution to this thorny problem. The company is preparing to unveil a high-capacity bandwidth management system, the PacketLogic PL10000, which Procera claims can intelligently parse through Internet traffic and prioritize different packets based on defined policies.
What's key, according to Procera, is the system can do that faster than anything on the market.
The PL10000 can process a total of 80 Gigabits per second of bandwidth, four times as much as any comparable platform in the market, including Procera's next-biggest model. That's enough capacity to handle 5 million broadband subscribers, according to Procera.
“The big service providers have been able to mask the problem by adding more bandwidth,” Procera CEO Jim Brear said. “But that's not sustainable.”
Procera uses application “signatures” to identify individual Internet traffic flows (e.g., a streaming YouTube video).
Service providers can then tell the PacketLogic systems how to treat different bits, to smoothly throttle back the heaviest-consuming apps or users depending on other traffic patterns — instead of just dropping packets on the floor.
Other vendors offering similar deep packet-inspection (DPI) systems include Cisco Systems, Arbor, Sandvine and Allot Communications.
The trouble with most DPI platforms, according to Procera, is that they can't accurately distinguish among different Web sites or applications in any fine-grained way.
“We haven't seen more differentiated services because operators don't actually know what's going on in the network,” Brear said.
Procera claims its traffic-identification engine has an accuracy rate exceeding 96%. Moreover, the company regularly updates its application signatures, similar to the way antivirus software companies issue updates when new security threats are identified.
Brear said the PL10000 has been deployed by “one of the top three” cable operators in the U.S. — a reference to Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications — but he would not identify the customer.
Procera, based in Los Gatos, Calif., was founded in 2002. Its core PacketLogic products are based on technology developed by Netintact, a Swedish firm Procera acquired in August 2006.
The company said more than 1,100 PacketLogic systems have been deployed worldwide by 400 customers, which include Swedish cable operator Com Hem, Australian teleco Optus, Singapore's SingTel and Norway's Telenor.
Jon Lindén, Procera's vice president of product management and marketing based in Sweden, said the PacketLogic system is entirely based on software, without requiring any special-purpose chips.
The PL10000 is based on the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA) and uses programmable chips supplied by Raza Microelectronics.
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