(UPDATED with Cisco responses.)
Founded in France and now headquartered in Dublin, UBIqube’s story deviates from Tail-f’s in a few ways. Notably, UBIqube focuses on the edge network while Tail-f is more interested in the core. And because of that difference, UBIqube is providing an open-ended framework for orchestration, in contrast to Tail-f’s strategy of using standard data models written in Yang.
(Cisco adds: “Tail-f leverages the YANG modeling language to build bespoke service models and also to build Network Equipment Drivers (NEDs). Service Providers are pushing for the industry to standardize on YANG. We will have the video up shortly with DT, AT&T, Level 3 and Equinix all saying that to the market.”)
But they had one thing in common: Cisco liked them both. In fact, Cisco was using UBIqube’s framework for a time, says Nabil Souli, the startup’s CEO and chairman.
“Folks called and said, ‘Why didn’t they buy you?” Souli says with a laugh. He doesn’t have an answer, other than to note that Cisco is large enough to have different factions with different opinions. “It’s hard to treat it as one company.” (Tail-f’s selection as an AT&T Domain 2.0 vendor might have tipped the scales.)
NTT likes UBIqube, too. The carrier announced in January that it’s using UBIqube’s MSActivator orchestration framework to turn a managed security offering into a self-service portal. For the last couple of days, UBIqube has had NTT officials at its Mobile World Congress booth periodically to testify on its behalf.
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Like Tail-f, UBIqube offers one vehicle for activating and managing equipment from multiple vendors. Lack of a common data model makes this undoable in any one vendor’s management system. Both startups provide an abstraction layer that this variety of equipment can talk to.
But Tail-f is interested in configuring switches*, which means dealing with a smaller set of vendors, Souli says. In turn, that made it feasible for Tail-f to build a strategy around standards — the Netconf protocol that was started by Juniper, and the well known Yang data modeling language.
UBIqube aims to work in the edge network, which means dealing with a variety of customer premises equipment, as well as items such as firewalls , voice-over-IP (VoIP) gear, and so on.
(* Cisco’s response: “This is inaccurate. Tail-f is promoting standards because it is in the best interest of the industry. For our orchestration product, it does not matter what configuration protocols are used. We can model all of the native commands into our network element drivers (NEDs). Tail-f has over 30 different NEDs – all of them are in production. These are not limited to switches. We have a large range of Layer 4-7 devices including F5, Riverbed, Fortinet, A10 — the list goes on and on.”)
It’s not practical for one company to build models for all of that gear. So, UBIqube describes MSActivator as a framework instead. To model a given piece of equipment, it’s up to the service provider (or the equipment vendor) to do the coding. That’s the key to making this idea scale, Souli says.
“In a couple of days, they can onboard any vendor,” Souli says. The principle is being put to work at NTT and at one telco in the Middle East that’s using MSActivator in production. Carriers have also been applying MSActivator to virtual customer premises equipment (vCPE), a type of gear that’s become a common network functions virtualization (NFV) use case.
For NTT, the appeal is that its security service is no longer bound to a particular vendor. Equipment can be swapped out behind the scenes while the end customer continues to use the same self-service interface to call up firewalls and intrusion detection services, says Kiyoshi Suzuki, director of product development for NTT Com Security.
All told, UBIqube is being used for configuring “several tens of thousands” of devices, Souli says.
Here’s another major difference from Tail-f: UBIqube hasn’t received venture funding. It’s grown up on money from private investors in Europe and Canada, Souli says. The company isn’t revealing the amount; Souli only says that MSActivator’s six-year development “took a lot of money, because this is a telco-grade platform.”
So, why did Tail-f get more attention?
“Perception-wise, particularly in the U.S., the core has carried more perceived value, particularly in the way companies are listed on the Nasdaq,” says Souli, who would know first-hand from his days at core optical-networking vendor Ciena.
MWC Disclosure: Craig Matsumoto was rejected for a Mobile World Congress press pass. He is attending MWC 2015 on a pass supplied by Brocade and plans to use the Ericsson stand as an ersatz press room.