Frame parries IP’s thrust

As one company ramps up a new product for Frame Relay users, industry observers say the access technology is just beginning to hit its stride.

Infonet Services Corp. unveiled FlexIVPN in October. This virtual private networking program gives companies using Frame the benefits of IP without having to perform the hefty migration.

“Infonet is not anxious to migrate our customers off of Frame Relay,” said Bob DaGiau, the firm’s vice-president, channel marketing in El Segundo, Calif. “Ninety-five per cent or more of multinational corporations have IT and network architectures today that are star or hub-and-spoke, for which Frame Relay was optimally designed.”

But Frame also has certain problems. For one, it relies on expensive permanent virtual circuits (PVCs) to ensure transmission. IP, by contrast, requires no such underpinning. It can appear less pricey than Frame, DaGiau said.

Infonet’s solution: get rid of the PVC cost. DaGiau said this plan, which marries the low price of IP and the reliability of Frame, means FlexIVPN costs 20 to 30 per cent less than traditionally priced Frame connections.

According to Vertical Systems Group Inc., a research firm in Westwood, Mass., the number of Frame ports globally will hit 2.76 million by 2007, up from 1.97 million in 2002. Erin Dunne, the company’s director of research services, said this slow but steady growth represents Frame’s fruition.

“IP VPNs are designed as a competitor to Frame Relay. But you have over a million ports of Frame Relay installed that aren’t moving. Why? It’s cheap. It’s ubiquitous and it’s easy.”

Frame began to take hold in the early 1990s. It became popular as businesses sought a reliable, low-cost alternative to private-line access.

Today “you hear the hype about…IP VPNs taking over the world,” Dunne said. But IP isn’t for everyone. It might appear less expensive, however, “if you want all the bells and whistles that you already have with your existing Frame network, you’re not saving anything. By the time you layer in the security and the encryption, it’s not any cheaper.”

Roger Ruby is the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based senior product manager of broadband product offerings at Quick Eagle Networks and co-marketing chair of the Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)/Frame Relay Alliance. He said Frame is here to stay. For one thing, carriers have invested in the technology, and they’re making money from it; don’t expect this cash cow to lie down.

“There’s no reason why you would throw all of your Frame switches at the edge into the trash heap when they can still provide you the access connectivity into the newer services in the cloud,” Ruby said.

Dunne said businesses need a solid business case to switch from Frame to IP, although she pointed out that some firms have a good reason to make the move. As Frame requires PVCs, it can be difficult to completely mesh the network.

While Frame was designed for star and hub-and-spoke architectures, IP is meant for fully meshed networking. DaGiau said there comes a time when fully meshed is the right way to go. FlexIVPN addresses this inevitability.

“We’ve designed the pricing for FlexIVPN to scale up to the point where at approximately the 75-per-cent meshing level, IP VPN Secure begins to become the more cost-effective solution,” DaGiau said, advocating Infonet’s IP product for companies that reach the mesh threshold. He added that FlexIVPN contracts include a clause for no-cost switchover to IP VPN Secure should clients cross that line.

Dunne said the FlexIVPN strategy makes sense. It’s as if Infonet is saying to customers, “‘If you want to come via IP, great, we’ll take you. If you want to come in Frame, great, we’ll take you.'”

Steve Brash, president of Infonet Canada in Toronto, said the company competes with major carriers for business in this country. FlexIVPN is meant for multinational firms headquartered here, such as major banks, and multinationals with Canadian stations.

DaGiau said Infonet is undertaking a network overhaul, porting its disparate infrastructures onto a single G.MPLS substructure to reduce operating costs. The company is in the request-for-proposals stage now.

Ruby said such migrations are par for the course.

“What goes on in the core is really of no consequence to the customer. All they’re saying is, ‘I want to subscribe to these services.’ The carriers are saying, ‘That’s fine. What do we have already that can work?’ They have Frame to get the customer into the cloud. Once they’re in the cloud, the transport can be the newer technology, the MPLS technology that a lot of companies are migrating to.”

For more info on FlexIVPN, visit Infonet online at

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