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Vonage In The News
Vonage Holdings Corp. Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2013 Results

Carolyn Katz Elected to Board of Directors of Vonage Holdings Corp.

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Vonage, a VT2142 and a RTP300, My Experiences - A Detailed Review
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Salt Lake City: impressions after several months




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Vonage CTO Writes An Open Letter To The Vendor Community


Vonage In Print News

An Open Letter To The Vendor Community

February 1, 2005

By Louis Mamakos

Dear vendors,

Here we are, a few years into the 21st century, and we're still using an old, obsolete network protocol to control and operate our network devices. Why is this? You might say it's about being backward compatible, but I attribute it to the most powerful fundamental force in the universe: inertia.

Imagine that you're a network architect at a large enterprise or service provider-in my case, I'm the CTO of Vonage-and you have to operate and interact with a wide variety of network elements. If your network consists of nearly 400,000 pieces of networking gear like mine, configuring and revving just 1 percent of those elements through the Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) can take a long time. Managing this process takes effort and patience, as anyone with a big network knows.

The problem with TFTP is that it performs poorly. TFTP was built for small footprint, not high performance. It uses the simple "send a packet, wait for an acknowledgement, then send the next packet" approach to transport protocols. Each of those packets can only contain 512 bytes. The combination of short packets and relatively long time required to receive an acknowledgement can cripple TFTP performance, especially when the devices being managed are on the other side of the globe. By contrast, file transfers over TCP-based protocols take advantage of TCP's ability to have more in-flight data to improve performance.

What's more, in today's age of legitimate paranoia, TFTP has no security. What authentication exists takes the form of a clear-text password in the first packet. This is no longer adequate.

There's also plenty of inconsistency in how TFTP operates behind NATs and firewalls. With TFTP, port numbers for a file transfer can be different from the UDP port numbers used for the initial request, making it difficult to work through firewalls or NATs. TFTP implementations have since been patched to make them work in NAT environments, but at the cost of having more than one simultaneous TFTP transfer between devices. With so many performance and operational shortcomings, it's no wonder TFTP servers are hard to install and don't work very well when implemented.

Let me be clear: TFTP was a wonderful solution back when devices used masked ROMs (or perhaps the higher-tech UV-erasable ROMs), 16-bit buses, 8MHz processors, and maybe a whole megabyte of RAM. But with network devices containing much larger, easily changed flash EEPROMs, orders of magnitude faster CPUs, and plenty of RAM, using TFTP just to be backward compatible with six or 10 generations of products is crazy.

We have to stop this madness. We have to look beyond working with last-generation products and toward using the tools that most modern devices include-embedded Web servers with TCP stacks, often SSL/TLS for security, SNMP, and other whizzy features. We must take advantage of this infrastructure and require that devices request files using HTTP. After all, it's easier to find a Web server for these devices to talk to than a TFTP server. Transfers can be authenticated using a digest challenge-response procedure in HTTP, and privacy can be achieved by using HTTPS and encrypting the traffic.

What was the right answer 20 years ago or even last year isn't necessarily the right answer today. In a world with PDAs powerful enough to run Web browsers, there's no excuse to be stuck in the past with inferior solutions. So I say, just say no to TFTP.

Yours,

Louis Mamakos

Louis Mamakos is the CTO of Vonage Holdings. He is one of the original network architects of UUNET, now part of MCI. An avid astronomer, Mamakos spends much of his time staring into space and thinking of ways to get around his TFTP problems.



 
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1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

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