Nortel Readying New App Services Platform? has learned that financially troubled networking vendor Nortel Networks is developing a new services router that could potentially enable applications to run on top of networking gear.

Though full details on the new Nortel services router are still being worked out, the platform might end up competing against HP ProCurve’s ONE initiative that lets application sit on router blades as well as the expected release by Cisco of its own blade server platform. It’s all part of a growing trend for networking vendors to move beyond just being about connectivity and moving bits around to actually being an application delivery platform.

“We absolutely believe this is a trend that networks will continue to redefine the way that almost every enterprise application that you’re familiar with today can be deployed,” John McHugh, Nortel’s new vice president of enterprise solutions, told “There is no reason why various network service functions and ultimately applications will not eventually slide into the actual fabric of the network.”

McHugh declined to give full details on Nortel’s new services router however he did provide some color on what it will enable.

“It’s a little premature to talk about it at this point but our primary purpose of the product initially was to enable voice applications,” McHugh said. “But speaking to the architecture in general, it is an architecture that is not specific to voice.”

McHugh argued that in general the main constraint for the services router architecture is finding compelling applications to put into a device based on where it sits in the network.

“We’re not doing this as if you put a processor in it they will come,” McHugh commented.

The Nortel Services router instead will take more of a purpose built approach in order to mitigate risk to the network. McHugh argued that Nortel doesn’t want to create an environment for customers where the network has the same issues that exist in client and server environments. Those issues include limited control of the apps that are running as well as the interactions and parameters running within the application environment.

Heading of spurious network behavior

“Nortel’s concern is if you do let it become the wild west where suddenly anyone can ignite an application inside a network device,” McHugh said. “When devices could take advantage of presence within the fabric of the network, I think you have a formula for spurious behavior in your network infrastructure. ”

The way that Nortel will get around that is to at first offer what McHugh referred to as ‘buttoned up’ solutions from best in class providers that are hosted on top of Nortel’s hardware. In such a way, the Nortel services router is not just a Nortel only play but is open to a wider array of applications.

HP ProCurve is taking a similar approach with its recently launched ProCurve ONE initiative that enables application from Microsoft, Avaya, Riverbed and other partners to run on HP networking gear. Cisco’s Application eXtension Platform (AXP) which was announced in April of 2008, similarly is limited to approved Cisco applications that can be developed by third parties.

McHugh hinted that the Nortel Services router could be available this year though he declined to provide any additional specifics.

Nortel is facing immense challenges right now. For one it is currently under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States as it tries to restructure its affairs.

McHugh is actually a newcomer to Nortel and joined in December of 2008 after previously running HP’s ProCurve unit. He is very optimistic that his new leadership of Nortel’s enterprise business is a good situation for both himself and Nortel.

“It’s a high longevity business with a huge installed base out there and I think there are a lot of us in the industry that looked at this asset and thought it was underutilized,” said McHugh. “I’m here because I believe in the opportunities here and I believe this is a business that does have its fundamental asset value intact and it will come out even stronger than before.”

“When your back is against the wall is when you gain a lot of perspective on the big picture.”

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