The "Switzerland" of Session Border Controllers

Different SBC vendors have very different approaches in how they price their SBC products. For the first in our series on this product class that's becoming increasingly important to the enterprise, we look at Acme Packet.

With so much talk about SIP trunking and new partnerships around session border controllers (SBCs) in the news (Acme Packet/Avaya, Ingate/Dialogic), I thought I'd devote a few columns to SBC software licensing. For this "mini-series", I’ll be looking at four very different companies all competing in the SBC space: Acme Packet, Cisco, Dialogic, and Ingate Systems AB.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Acme Packet's Seamus Hourihan (VP, Marketing and Product Development and serious Boston Celtic fan). Since he's credited with coining the term "Session Border Controller", it made sense to start the SBC discussion by talking with Mr. Hourihan about Acme Packet’s Net-Net products and software licensing.

Acme Packet: A Little Background
Founded in August 2000 and with its corporate HQ in Bedford, MA, Acme Packet has 500 employees focused on developing and selling technologies that enable interactive, multimedia communications over IP-enabled networks. Their product portfolio includes session-aware load balancers, multiservice security gateways, session routing proxy, and of course session border controllers. The North American market represents 50-60% of its annual sales (FY2009 revenue was $141M) with the enterprise customer market providing 15-20% of Acme's total revenue.

Since my column focuses on the enterprise, let's look at Acme Packet's Session Border Controller Net-Net products which are geared for these customers: Net-Net 2600 and 3800 Session Directors which support up to 4,000 and 8,000 sessions respectively, with the maximum sessions dependent on variables such as TLS/SRTP encryption and signaling protocols/transcoding. The other Net-Net products (4000, 4500 ATCA Blade, and 9200) are geared for carrier-class or very large contact center environments).

One additional product is interesting to highlight, Net-Net OS-Enterprise (OS-E). A software-only product, OS-E is designed to be integrated on a wide-range of Acme-certified 3rd party servers and is also supported in Virtual Machine (VMware or Xen) operating environments.

Notably, Net-Net OS-E is designed more as an OEM product that can be sold under the logo of other companies. For example, Avaya recently announced its Aura Session Border Controller. Guess what: Avaya is deploying OS-E on its S8800 servers. The initial offer is capable of supporting 750 SIP trunk sessions (or ~ 5,000 employees) with the list license cost of $200 per simultaneous session.

Avaya is one of the first to re-brand OS-E but they won't be the last, hence Mr. Hourihan’s characterization of Acme Packet being the "Switzerland of session border controllers." Leveraging the expanding SIP trunking market, Acme Packet is making its SBC software application available through a growing variety of manufacturer/OEM channels. This software strategy makes perfect sense, but of course, successfully managing the channels and OEM partners will be a major challenge.

Hardware and Software Licensing Pricing
The list purchase price for Net-Net 2600 and 3800 platforms is approximately $19,950 (US$) which includes software licenses for 150 sessions; SIP, H.323 and SIP-to-H.323 interworking signaling protocols; and the accounting and QoS measurement and reporting feature groups. To expand beyond the initial 150-session limit, you simply add software licenses (no additional hardware is required) which for the 2600 and 3800 Session Directions are available in bundles of 25 sessions; higher capacity bundles are also available.

Customers should know that Acme Packet is fine with infrequent traffic bursts that exceed the configured session licenses and won't require the customer to buy additional licenses unless these bursts become the new busy hour norm.

Software upgrades are entitlements (free) to customers that have maintenance contracts (annual maintenance costs are 12-14% of the product list price depending upon maintenance plan). Customers without maintenance can purchase upgrades, with the cost based on the product’s configured capacity. If you are moving from one Net-Net 2600 or 3800 session capacity you simply pay the cost difference between the two capacity levels.

Optional Features and Functionality
While the core software features are identical across all Net-Net products (I'm a big fan of this standardized approach to features/functionality across a product line), there are additional features and functionality available.

* Customers may require replication for call recording, which is used to record calls for compliance or contact center agent performance assessment purposes * It may also be necessary to architect redundant SBC devices to ensure sufficient resiliency within the network. I was told there is a multiplier for redundant designs but not twice the cost (note that some competitors do not charge for redundant device licenses, only hardware. I'll explain more in my next column).

* Signaling protocol support

* Advanced management tools (including the capability to measure MOS to check voice quality)

At this time, I don't have specific pricing from Acme Packet on these options but suffice it to say that the options are offered for an additional one-time Right-to-Use (RTU) fee per SBC. For more, check with your Acme or channel partner rep for pricing on these options.

Wrap up
Go to Acme Packet’s website and look at their job openings. They're looking for software engineers (not hardware) and of course, sales people. That says it all: Technology advancements are built in on software and with it, software licensing and the associated RTU fees.

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but with the majority of technology acquisition costs coming more and more from software and related services (e.g., maintenance and labor), these "soft" costs need to be understood to make informed buying decisions. And as we'll see in the next few columns, different vendors have very different approaches in how they price their SBC products. All of which means that you’ll need to do your homework to make sure you’re making informed buying decisions.

Up next, more on Session Border Controllers and then Avaya's Agile Communications Environment (ACE).

Until next time, all the best.

* Customers may require replication for call recording, which is used to record calls for compliance or contact center agent performance assessment purposes * It may also be necessary to architect redundant SBC devices to ensure sufficient resiliency within the network. I was told there is a multiplier for redundant designs but not twice the cost (note that some competitors do not charge for redundant device licenses, only hardware. I'll explain more in my next column).

* Signaling protocol support

* Advanced management tools (including the capability to measure MOS to check voice quality)

At this time, I don't have specific pricing from Acme Packet on these options but suffice it to say that the options are offered for an additional one-time Right-to-Use (RTU) fee per SBC. For more, check with your Acme or channel partner rep for pricing on these options.

Wrap up
Go to Acme Packet’s website and look at their job openings. They're looking for software engineers (not hardware) and of course, sales people. That says it all: Technology advancements are built in on software and with it, software licensing and the associated RTU fees.

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but with the majority of technology acquisition costs coming more and more from software and related services (e.g., maintenance and labor), these "soft" costs need to be understood to make informed buying decisions. And as we'll see in the next few columns, different vendors have very different approaches in how they price their SBC products. All of which means that you’ll need to do your homework to make sure you’re making informed buying decisions.

Up next, more on Session Border Controllers and then Avaya's Agile Communications Environment (ACE).

Until next time, all the best.

Until next time, all the best.