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EXFO Snaps Up Ontology for Network Visibility

Ray Le Maistre
3/2/2017
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BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2017 -- EXFO has opened up its purse again to buy network visibility software specialist Ontology Systems, a move that it hopes will bolster its service assurance proposition to network operators as they embrace virtualization. (See EXFO Acquires Ontology Systems.)

Best known for its test and measurement tools, EXFO is adding to its service assurance capabilities with the purchase of UK-based Ontology Systems for US$7.6 million. That's not much to be paying for any company, but Ontology, which has been around for nearly ten years, is not going to move the needle on EXFO's financials. Its annual revenues are only at about the $4 million mark, whereas EXFO generated revenues of $232 million in the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, 2016.

EXFO Inc. (Nasdaq: EXFO; Toronto: EXF), though, is hoping that it can build on Ontology's existing customer base -- which includes the likes of BT, Level 3, Telekom Malaysia, Telenor, Vodacom, Vodafone and more -- and create a stronger proposition by combining Ontology's network visibility software with its own analytics capabilities.

Ontology certainly has something different to offer for operators wanting to get a real-time view of their services and associated network elements. That was noticed by EXFO when it started to hunt around last year for potential partners or targets that could enhance its service assurance offering, EXFO's Chief Operating Officer Philippe Morin tells Light Reading on the MWC show floor. (See EXFO Hires Philippe Morin as COO.)

Ontology developed a system based on semantic search capabilities that was designed to deliver an accurate view of network resources to operations teams in real time. "It's an IT concept that's been brought into the telecoms sector by Ontology and a much better way of gathering information than the federated approach of collecting data from multiple databases," notes Morin. (See Ontology Updates Its Semantic Search Platform.)

The two companies announced a partnership in December 2016 but it quickly became clear, says Morin, that the proposition was so strong that it made more sense to bring Ontology in-house. (Or perhaps Ontology needed to be acquired to survive? When asked if the low-priced deal was a mercy purchase, Morin dodged the question a few times before answering "I would not say that…").

Bringing Ontology in-house means EXFO gets 47 new staff and the chance to fully combine Ontology's discovery and visibility capabilities with EXFO's analytics system and probes. "We can get great root cause analysis by working in combination with Ontology," says Morin. He notes that while this will be relevant in today's mostly physical networks, it will become even more important in the hybrid physical/virtual networks that will exist in the coming years. "Once VNFs [virtual network functions] are in the network, imagine getting a real-time inventory view -- that would be very beneficial," notes the EXFO man.

Delivering a real-time view of such hybrid networks will be an important capability for operators but EXFO won't be alone in saying it can deliver such a useful management tool. That is also the core proposition of CENX Inc. , while such OSS giants as Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX) and Netcracker Technology Corp. will also be pitching a similar story to network operations teams.

So does the move make sense? Heavy Reading Senior Analyst James Crawshaw had thought Ontology would be a neat fit for a fulfillment vendor such as Sigma Systems or "as a next-generation inventory system for one of the larger OSS companies. But Ontology's ability to discover and keep track of the network is highly complementary to service assurance too and it seems that the existing partnership [between EXFO and Ontology] was getting good commercial traction and exclusive ownership of Ontology was the logical next step," notes the analyst.

Ontology could well have ended up in the arms of a fulfillment vendor, specifically Sigma Systems . Light Reading learned that Sigma was in talks to acquire Ontology last year but clearly that deal never reached a conclusion. (See EXCLUSIVE: Sigma Lines Up Ontology Acquisition.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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