The demise of ATM

January 31, 2007

It’s said that a few weeks is long time with the Internet, so it’s amazing to take a look at what has happened over 12 years in the network world that delivers the Internet to your door.

You will detect a particular flavour to this story and this is the subject of Quality of Service which has been a thread to many of my activities over the years.

We are all Lemmings in our own way following the latest trend and trying to be at the heart of whatever industry gestalt is seen to be the thing of the moment. So I thought I would kick this little mini-series off with a look back at the ATM ‘revolution’ of the ’90s for a global bandwagon that went belly up.

ATM stands for asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) which was standardised in 1988. ATM is a cell switching technology and along with synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) transport, was meant to form the basis of the public broadband ISDN (B-ISDN). B-ISDN, also know as the Information Superhighway (what an archaic term) was the holy grail of the telecommunications industry before the Internet. I wrote a short overview of ATM way back in 1992.

Although ATM came out of the telecommunications world as it was standardised by the ITU in Geneva, it was soon picked up in that pre-IP world as a standard that could be used to converge the totally different worlds of WAN and LAN technologies to create seamless WAN/LAN infrastructures. At the time, the public data services world was just getting used to frame relay, a cut down X.25 service and private LANs were all about IP and Ethernet. The new gestalt had begun!

Converged Networks based on ATM

The diagram above was a typical slide of an equipment vendor of the time. ATM was the future for WANs! ATM was the future for LANs ! By 97/98 every single one of the major WAN / LAN equipment vendors had huge ATM divisions and IP was just not on their strategic radar. Of course, there was one exception to this and we all know who that was – Cisco.

A 1995 graph predicting European WAN Adapter Shipments from DataQuest (now Gartner) can be seen above. This inaccurately predicted that ATM would steamroller all before it – this was the generally accepted view of the time. Domination would be achieved by 2006 funnily enough. The graph on the right from the Yankee Group shows 2006 reality which is slightly different.

One big lesson in all this is to always look beyond what analysts say as they are invariably incorrect and just reflect currently held current views. No one can really predict the future! This holds true for today just as much it was in 1997.

It was clear to all that the core of both private and public networks would be ATM. Boy was this wrong. I guess the Company vision held by Fore in 1998 does with hindsight smack of a company burying its head in sand to avoid reality.

Two of the biggest vendors, Fore and Newbridge stuck to their ATM guns until the very end with predictable consequences. Newbridge was sold to Alcatel and heaven knows why Marconi ( now Ericsson) bought Fore at a time when it was clear that ATM was dead.

ATM lived on for many years as an underlying transport for IP backbones and still survives today as the bearer in DSL. The latter is purely for legacy reasons as DSL dates back to the late 80s when ATM was being defined.

So why did ATM die? The answer is quite easy really. In the LAN world IP and Ethernet were taking hold as the de facto standards and equipment based on those standards were so much simpler, easier to understand (better the devil you know) and significantly cheaper. ATM equipment was expensive because it was primarily designed for the the service provider world. Also, it was easier to move Ethernet up to 100 Mbit/s, onto 1Gbit/s and 10Gbit/s today than jump ship to ATM. Software didn’t need to changed and there were no ‘driver’ issues. Whereas, ATM would require a complete restart of hardware and software in the LAN evironment and few IT departments were willing to bite that bullet for so few benefits. I wouldn’t like to add up the overall cost to equipment vendors of developing ATM and then closing down all those divisions, but I bet it was a few $10bns!


ATM’s classes of service

However, ATM had one real benefit that neither IP nor Ethernet had: defined classes of services. What this meant that using ATM it was possible to give priority to real-time services (isochronous services) such as video or Voice over IP (VoIP) services over store-and-forward services such as e-mail.

The lack of this capability in IP at that time had, in my opinion, a profound impact on just about everything that followed in the IP networking world. In fact you could say it was THE dominant issue that has influenced Ip architecture ever since.

Looking back, I really did enjoy those days at all those conferences with my ‘ATM is dead’ presentations – even if many disagreed at the time.

There was a particular seminal start-up that started the next phase of developement of IP services. More on this in Part 2.

Part 2: The phenomenon of Ipsilon.

AlwaysOn Live webcast 29th-31st January now!

January 30, 2007

A bit late but…

AlwaysOn is pleased to be broadcasting its entire AlwaysOn Media NYC event from January 29 – 31st to an online audience all over the world at no cost to viewers. Today’s program is posted below.
AlwaysOn Media NYC -- January 29-31, 2007

The Webcast is live today from 8:30am – 6:00pm EST. Viewers can join in the discussion by asking questions and sharing comments and see them beamed up on the big screen at our event.

Click here to watch the
webcast and join us in NYC!

All the presentations will be archived on this site as well.

Mobile apps: Java just doesn’t cut the mustard?

January 30, 2007

When I attended Library House’s MediaTech 2.006 conference in December 2006, I bumped into an old colleague of mine Francis Charig. Francis is CEO of the Tao Group (pronounced ‘dow group’) based in Reading, UK. I think I first met Francis, back in the mid 1990s when they were moving to enter the mobile middleware market. The company was formed in 1992 with Francis as Chairman and Chris Hinsley as the Director of Technology. Their original product was a software development platform that enabled games programmers to develop games that were portable across a number of operating systems.
Over the years this has morphed into intent, a modular software development platform for the creation of rich multimedia services on mobile phones. intent enables applications developers to write binary, portable, native and Java services without the “behavioral inconsistencies that have plagued the rest of the industry.”

In my chat with Francis, we were talking about today’s complexities of developing applications that are able to run on a multiplicity of phones. I mentioned to him that with an application I was developing I was avoiding the use of phone based software (J2EE et al) like the plague because it was so challenging, if not impossible, to develop a portable application. Fortunately, my application is a very simple text based application and the best way to deliver this service is through the phone’s browser. Taking that path, portability is ensured with minimum support costs.

The conversation then moved the conversation on to Java and I exclaimed “I thought so”!

However, it might be best to directly quote from Francis’ paper:

“Many expected Java to be the solution [to multimedia application development on mobile phones]. But now the market has broadly woken up to Java’s true capabilities with the gaming community shouting, “I told you so.”

In its defense, Java wasn’t designed for the delivery of the typical consumer services we want to use today based around powerful multimedia. The only way to deliver rich media on Java, even to a fairly rudimentary level has been to tie each implementation so closely with the underlying hardware that the portability of the platform has been all but eliminated, and the variation in platform has been such that there are huge inconsistencies in running the same application across multiple devices. To illustrate the fragmentation around Java, in the mobile games world the requirement to run across so many handsets has meant that publishers have had to maintain literally hundreds of different SKUs of just of a single Java game, and with significant behavioural differences between handsets.

Java was not designed with 21st century market requirements in mind. It was planned with certain objectives and those objectives, by and large, were fulfilled and fulfilled to a high standard. What it was not designed to do was enable services such as the more advanced 3D mapping applications or competitive casual or console gaming. Java is abstracted too far away from the hardware that powers the device to provide an efficient platform and the ubiquity that the market craves.

Consequently, we have seen application developers move in 2006 to writing in high-level languages that output native codes such as C and C++. This is a return to non-portable platforms with rich media APIs tied to specific hardware/software combinations… Our industry has moved from a Java to post-Java market, where Java still exists as an important part of the platform but not the entire platform itself… ‘Write once, run once’. But native code is required to meet consumer expectations. It’s quite a dichotomy.”

This is really quite profound in its consequences and, as Francis says, presents quite a dilemma to advanced mobile service developers.

Maybe I’ll stick to browser-based WML, XHTML or even AJAX solutions for the moment or just give Francis a call!

Ryan Carson on UK start-up 101

January 29, 2007

I came across a really interesting set of posts the other day from Carson Ryan’s blog detailing his experiences and providing advice about getting a new business off the ground in the UK. Although I havn’t read them all as yet, what I did read made a lot of sense!

  1. Small Biz 101: How to get started
  2. Small Biz 101: Cash flow
  3. Small Biz 101: No one starts with a masterpiece
  4. Small Biz 101: Tips for Increasing
  5. The cost of bootstrapping your app: The figures behind DropSend (part 1)
  6. The cost of bootstrapping your app: The figures behind DropSend (part 2)
  7. How to Build a Successful Web Startup in the UK
  8. How to Build a Successful Web Startup in the UK : Cash Flow
  9. How to Build a Successful Web Startup in the UK : Hiring Freelancers
  10. How to Build a Successful Web Startup in the UK : Promoting Yourself – 15 Do’s and Don’ts
  11. How to Build a Successful Web Startup in the UK : Getting a Merchant Account

Take a read!

Crisp Thinking: a child protection technology

January 29, 2007

When I heard the short presentation from Adam Hildreth of Crisp Thinking at Library House’s MediaTech 2.006 event held at the iMax theatre before Christmas, there was something that really intrigued me about what they were up to.

They were hosted at the event by David Rowe who runs Microsoft’s Emerging Business Team and hosts their Startup Zone.

In fact there were three things that I found interesting (a) The service they offer seemed, to me at least, very innovative that focused on an industry pain not being addressed in a significant way by other companies (b) Their approach to solving the problem from a network and technology perspective seemed remarkably different, and (c) their CEO is only 21! You don’t come across this combination too often in my experience.

What do they do?

Crisp have developed a child protection gateway (CPG) that has been designed to sit in an ISP network to protect children and teenagers from the specific threat of online-grooming and cyber-bullying. The CPG acts as the gateway for the traffic from protected households. Because all of the child protection components actually sit in the network layer, not on the client, the Crisp solution could offer unrivalled levels of protection. It is extremely hard for even a “well tuned” teenager to circumvent their network level controls.

The core of the CPG is Crisp’s Anti-Grooming Engine (AGE™). AGE™ takes a completely different approach to the traditional market approach for Parental Controls. It focuses on protecting children from external threats, rather than on moderating what children can and cannot do on the net. The net result provides an experience which is positive for both Parents and Children.

How do they do it?

Clearly, CPG type functionality could be installed in a domestic environment attached to DSL router to intercept traffiic but Crisp’s business model calls for them to work with ISP’s and embed their CPGs in the ISP’s network.

Although working with carriers / ISPs is always a challenge, it strikes me that Crisp’s technology would be well received as it provided a service that could prove to be very popular with parents. Crisp describe it thus:

“Offering controls within a network that an ISP can ‘switch on’ drives one of the key aspects of an ISP’s revenue model; value added services. With child protection being one of the few mass-market value added services this becomes particularly important in the current broadband ‘price war’.

Network-level protection also gives an ISP huge brand differentiation within the market; a consumer’s perception is immediately changed if their ISP is actually pro-actively protecting their family.”

The people:

Crisp is a young company and is actually Adam’s second start-up, even though he is only 21. Although he might be mightily embarrassed by this, when he was 18 he came number 4 in the RichList 2020 drawn up by the Royal Bank of Scotland. The Internet can be a horror sometimes!

Adam has put together a strong management team and has attracted Andrew Burke to be their Chairman. As Andrew was earlier BT’s CEO, BT Entertainment, I guess Adam has had many meetings with BT at Adastral Park!


This certainly seems to be a company that has come with some cute technology and is taking an innovate, but challenging, approach to market. They are certainly addressing a major industry pain and if they are successful with thier trials I would expect a significant take up by the ISP community both small and large.

And, if you want to beat a path the Adam’s door, book your train seat because as they are based in Leeds in Northern England.

Postnote: Coincidentally, I saw that MySpace could be offering child monitoring software.

In January 2006, xBOX was launched – a firewall-based solution.
In February 2006, I came across newly launched anti-grooming software from In Loco Parentis

Trevor Baylis and Virgin Galactic – huh?

January 25, 2007

I just received an email from Mike Southon famous for his book The Beermat Entrepreneur and his regular evening network meetings. Mike could sell, as well as talk, a hind leg off a donkey and he is always an inspirational speaker in his own right. In this month’s newsletter, he provided a link to an MP3 interview with Trevor Baylis.Of course, you will remember Trevor as the inventor of the clockwork radio from a few years back. In the free podcast you can hear about his early life, but if you want to get up to date you will have buy the full interview.

That interview reminded me of the IT Futures conference for CIOs that I attended in November. It wasn’t so much the formal technical presentations that stuck in my brain, but the two special presenters they brought in.

The first was Stephen Attenborough who had the fabulous job title of VP, Astronaut Relations! The company? Virgin Galactic of course! If you go to their web site choose the flash version (Now that is definitely a first for me).

Virgin Galactic is the world’s first spaceline.  Giving you the groundbreaking opportunity to become one of the first ever non-professional astronauts.  Virgin Galactic will own and operate its privately built spaceships, modelled on the remarkable, history-making SpaceShipOne.

Virgin’s vast experience in aviation, adventure, luxury travel and cutting-edge design combined with the unique technology developed by Burt Rutan will ensure an unforgettable experience unlike any other available to mankind.

Stephen’s presentation was one of the most entertaining I’ve seen for years. It had nothing to do with IT, but I guarantee everyone in that audience of CIOs will remember the IT Futures conference for years.

You can see the movie about the $1,000,000 X-prize and even book your $100,000 seat for your personal trip into space! SpaceShipOne made three flights into space with altitudes greater than 100km during 2004, culminating with X Prize winning flight on 4th October 2006. Quite mind blowing and such positive PR for Richard Branson as the sponsor and for entrepreneurial UK.

The second guest speaker in the lunch break was Trevor Baylis and I had the luck (or initiative?) to sit next to him for lunch. Trevor now focuses on helping inventors, entrepreneurs and designers to evaluate ands protect their ideas. His business is called Trevor Baylis Brands.

If you ever have a chance to meet Trevor you will certainly have an experience to remember. He is brilliantly outspoken, non-PC, opinionated, full of anecdotes and totally passionate about what he does. He said “why shouldn’t I be?”… “I’m beholden to no one, in my 70s and I want to prevent other inventors from being screwed.”

He’s had other ideas than the clockwork radio but the mobile phone charger built into the heel of a shoe “wasn’t received too well” several years back!

That conference was organised by Richard Tribe of Revolution Events and if you need a memorable conference you couldn’t do better than to give him a call.

Now what was it that Sun was talking about after the Virgin Galactic presentation? SOA something? No, I’m only joking. As Sun was one of the sponsors of this excellent conference I was all ears…

The Future of Web Ads is in Britain

January 24, 2007

There is a very interesting article in the New York Times entitled The Future of Web Ads is in Britain. Unfortunately, you will have to look at an ad for quite a few seconds before you will be able to read it! It’s in your face somewhat!

To quote:

Online advertising is racing ahead in Britain, growing at a roughly 40 percent annual rate, and is expected to account for as much as 14 percent of overall ad spending this year, according to media buying agencies. That is the highest level in the world, and more than double the percentage in the United States.

We are all so familiar with negative articles about the UK, so it’s really good to see an area where we are definitely playing the role of the early adopter and leading the world.

It also confirms that we are a country of addicts.

On average, Britons spend 23 hours a week on the Internet, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau. The Internet accounts for about a quarter of Britons’ time spent with all media, according to Citigroup, nearly double the percentage in the United States.

The UK really is in the leader pack when it comes to Internet services and the time has never been better for dusting off that Internet idea and get it out there!