The move, on the heels of a related announcement involving Hewlett-Packard and Lucent Technologies today, ups the ante for various aspirants in the market for systems and networking hardware that can alleviate over-stressed equipment intended for voice calls, not dial-up Net sessions.
The Stratus technology essentially provides Ascend with a means to offload over-worked circuit-based voice switches that were made before the Net era. These so-called "gateway technologies" intercept data transmissions from the public switched telephone network, or PSTN, and reroute the traffic to data equipment through the use of signaling system 7 (SS7), a veteran reliability protocol from the telco world.
The Ascend SS7 gateway, or ASG, will initially integrate with Ascend's remote access hardware called the Max TNT. Those devices now support more than 8.5 million modem ports in various service provider networks, according to company claims, with the new capabilities being offered for an additional $18 and $24 per port.
Ascend executives admitted in an interview with CNET News.com that they scrapped plans announced in June to roll out a version of the ASG independent of the Stratus technology--an initial strategy partially based on the same software Lucent is working with from HP. "This is the pony we ride," said Kurt Bauer, vice president of marketing for Ascend's access switching division, of the Stratus technology.
The SS7 software basically adds to what Ascend would have introduced, had it stuck with its strategy to work with HP and its OpenCall software, according to executives.
In its initial form, the gateway speeds a user's access to a dial-up session by connecting Ascend's remote access equipment to the voice-based equipment where the call originated, alleviating congestion often associated with call termination points.
The addition of Stratus allows Ascend to offer an all-in-one approach that will result in support within the company's frame relay and asynchronous transfer mode (ATM)-based switching devices as well, with trials due next year, according to Ascend executives. "Ultimately, the technology will be like a network control point," said Rod Randall, vice president of marketing for Ascend's carrier signaling and management division.
Ascend believes it has an advantage among large carriers, due to Stratus' focus on providing software and hardware that does not have a single point-of-failure--a key requirement for inclusion in industrial-strength telco networks. "We are targeting the carriers that demand fault-tolerance," said Randall.
Analysts noted that various technologies to facilitate the so-called convergence of voice and data-based networks are moving at a startling pace, forcing companies to build partnerships or open their wallets to meet demand. "They see the strategic use of this technology," said Jeremy Duke, analyst with market researcher Cahners In-Stat Group. "This trend is moving really fast."
While some companies, such as Ascend and Cisco Systems are coming at the converged network opportunity with a data resume, the likes of Nortel Networks and Lucent are trying to use their circuit-based voice expertise to their advantage.
"It's almost a level playing field?That's what makes this really interesting," noted Duke.
Ascend has also reportedly found buyers for the components of Stratus's business that do not relate to the telecommunications market, a previously disclosed intention the company said it had hoped to complete quickly at the time of the acquisition.