IBBS automates configuration and delivery of DNS and DHCP services for cable operators across North and South America
In the late 1990s, small and medium-sized cable television companies across North and South America recognized that to stay competitive with larger players and upstart "triple-threat" providers, they needed to offer high-speed data services to their customers. They faced a significant challenge, however, when it came to provisioning all the new IP-based devices and services they needed to deploy. Writing their own software was a daunting task, but purchasing new solutions was beyond the constrained budgets that most of these companies faced.
In 2001, IBBS wrote software to automate the provisioning and diagnostics of all these devices and was preparing to unleash a managed service to support small and medium-sized cable operators. Yet, a challenge remained in delivering DNS and DHCP services given the diversity of devices and business rules that IBBS wanted to be able to support in the field. A single cable operator typically supports a very limited number of devices and service options in order to keep configuration and control relatively simple. IBBS knew, however, that its target customers were taking very different approaches from one another, relying on different and often aging devices and formulating distinct classes of service for their particular consumers.
"Our goal was essentially to offer a DNS and DHCP cloud service long before it was called `the cloud,'" says Kyle Johnson, director of product strategy at IBBS. "But we knew we wouldn't have any administrative control over our customers' access networks, and we knew we couldn't control the types of cable modem termination systems they would use. So we needed a highly flexible solution that would allow us to respond to the unique requirements of our target market, including any type of gear you can imagine, devices that were end-of-life for as much as 10 years, and very different business rules."
IBBS opted for Cisco® Network Registrar®, which provides integrated DNS and DHCP services, and functions as the basis of a DOCSIS® cable modem provisioning system. The solution was deployed in a single, multi-tenant cluster in Atlanta, Georgia.
Cisco Network Registrar includes the ability to write custom functions, or "extension points," that give IBBS precise control over the DHCP requests coming in and the responses going out based on very complex and detailed criteria. This control is critical to managing the multi-tenant environment with its diverse hardware and business requirements and to allowing IBBS to accommodate any manner of request. For example, one cable operator may want to separate commercial and residential IP addresses, while another operator makes no such distinction. One operator may have four classes of service for different thresholds of bandwidth, while another may have just three classes of service with completely different bandwidth thresholds. IBBS also recommends a best-practice 24-hour lease period for an IP address, but some operators insist on a longer period. Cisco Network Registrar extension points make it easy for IBBS to satisfy these requests.
Cisco Network Registrar's full scripting capability also enables IBBS to quickly and easily add or extract information in a batch mode. For example, when IBBS acquires a new customer or when an existing customer purchases another cable operator, IBBS can easily convert the entire new subscriber base to its system. When working with a large number of transactions, this complete control from a command line saves a tremendous amount of time compared to working primarily in a GUI.
"We launched our company with Cisco and clearly made the right decision," says Johnson. "Cisco Network Registrar gives us the power to configure requests on a per-operator, per-access equipment, and per-customer equipment basis, and this control has been a key to our success. Because Cisco Network Registrar is so scalable and configurable, we've never had to say no to a customer request. Our standard response is, `Yes, we can do that, too.'"
The flexibility and scalability of Cisco Network Registrar has enabled IBBS to provide cable modem access services using a cloud model for the last 10 years with little cost. The single cluster of Cisco Network Registrar servers in the IBBS data center in Atlanta serves about 250 cable operators managing more than 1,400 aggregation devices connecting more than one million cable modems across North and South America. All day, every day, Cisco Network Registrar reliably identifies each device and class of service, and then provides IP addresses and the right configuration files and profiles to keep each modem up and running.
Cisco Network Registrar's flexibility also lets IBBS accommodate the myriad business rules its customers request. Where a typical cable company may have three or four classes of service, IBBS is able to configure three or four different classes of service for each of 250 operators - for nearly 1,000 classes of service.
"We've never encountered a customer business requirement we could not meet," says Johnson. "We've seen operators come onto our system with some very old and strange devices, but we have been able to easily mitigate any problems by quickly putting in place very specific filters for only those devices. And this capability is built into Cisco Network Registrar. No patches from Cisco, no complicated workarounds. Cisco Network Registrar is simply that flexible and easy to work with."
Nearly every IBBS customer has been a conversion from another service - an operator making the decision that its current DHCP solution is too complicated or too expensive. The flexibility of Cisco Network Registrar makes the conversion seamless and painless, and the reliability of the technology has translated into a very satisfied customer base that continues to grow.
Through the years, IBBS has regularly updated its Cisco software to keep pace with evolving technologies and standards. "We need to maintain industry leadership in order to keep our competitive edge, and Cisco has helped us do that," says Johnson, "We're very excited about the upcoming Prime Network Registrar offering and the full IPAM capabilities it includes."