Onix: Another MEMS Casualty

The all-optical switching firm whose development paralleled OMM's keeps in step: it closes up shop

May 22, 2003

3 Min Read
Onix: Another MEMS Casualty

With the bang of a gavel earlier this week, the book closed on Onix Microsystems Inc. (not to be confused with the former chip startup Onex -- see Onex Chip Sees Light of Day), the latest casualty in the formerly high-profile business of all-optical switches.

The last of Onix's assets went to auction Tuesday. Whether the company's intellectual property found a home is unknown, as the organizers haven't yet disclosed all the results to Gary Koos, Onix's vice president of finance and its last remaining employee.

In its prime, Onix employed as many as 250. "We went down to 20 back in October and 10 in January. Now we're down to one," Koos says. He confirmed to Light Reading that the company has shut down.

In 2000, photonic-switch companies were all the rage. Well more than a dozen companies began developing all-optical switch fabrics, usually based on MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) or liquid-crystal technology but sometimes dipping into more exotic technologies (see Optical Switching Fabric).

Like OMM Inc., Onix raised a bundle of cash thanks to the hype (see MEMS Startup Onix Gets $35.5M and Onix Scores $95 Million). And, like OMM, Onix had to scale back its ambitions once it became clear that large all-optical switches weren't a viable market (see Onix Follows in OMM's Footsteps). And now, Onix is following OMM into oblivion (see OMM: The End Is Near).

Tiny all-optical switches, such as 1x2 devices for protection switching, continue to be a viable market, with players such as JDS Uniphase Corp. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU). But Onix and others were chasing bigger game, the large-scale all-optical switch that would someday power all-optical networks.

Network Photonics was another recent casualty there, having offered its technology for sale last month (see Network Photonics Shuts Down). And other MEMS hopefuls such as K2 Optronics Inc. and Nayna Networks Inc. stepped away from the all-optical market some time ago, although both companies are still in business.

Among the survivors nowadays is Nanogear Inc., a company created in December when its founders acquired MEMS technology from the defunct C Speed Corp. Nanogear appears to still be in stealth mode and did not immediately return a call for comment.

Other survivors such as Lynx Photonic Networks have scaled down their ambitions. The company cut back its work force in October but still has 56 employees. "We feel that's sustainable," says Michael Leigh, president.

Lynx, which sells pizza-box subsystems, doesn't make Optical Crossconnects larger than 8x8. It can produce a 16x16 version, but the demand isn't there -- for the few requests requiring anything larger, Lynx finds it's sufficient to chain together multiple small fabrics. "We've been able to do a lot of scaleability with our small matrices," Leigh says.

Advanced Optical MEMS Inc. (AOMEMS) likewise continues to sell 4x4 and 8x8 optical crossconnects. As with Lynx, one of its major markets is protection switching.

But don't fret -- there are still a few hearties going after large-scale all-optical routing. Calient Networks Inc. and Movaz Networks Inc. have not only survived, but have done so using difficult 3D MEMS technology (for a complete description, see Optical Switch Fabric -- MEMS).

Calient has said its DiamondWave switches are shipping with optical crossconnects ranging from 32x32 to 256x256. The company plans to make some customer announcements in conjunction with next month's Supercomm tradeshow in Atlanta.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light ReadingFor extensive and up-to-date coverage of Supercomm – before, during, and after the show – visit Light Reading's Supercomm Preview Site.

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