Aura Tacks On Ethernet Management

It's not another switch or a router, so what is it? Aura has a nifty little Ethernet management box

January 15, 2001

3 Min Read
Aura Tacks On Ethernet Management

Aura Networks Inc. is unveiling its first product today, the Radiance System for managing optical gigabit Ethernet links.

Unfortunately, despite the product's utility, the startup's confusing marketing could work against it.

Here's the confusion: Aura calls its box an "access platform," an "optical Ethernet system," and a "last mile optical Ethernet access technology." This has caused some analysts -- even ones briefed about the product -- to think it has switching and routing capabilities. It does not.

Instead, it does two things: First, it converts Ethernet copper connections to fiber links in increments up to 1 Gbit/s. Second, and more importantly, it uses a proprietary technique to monitor metro Ethernet connections in a way that's faster and more detailed than current solutions.

Understanding Aura's offering requires a look at the present state of the art. Metro Ethernet service providers like to tout their services as an alternative to costly Sonet links (see Metro Optical Ethernet). Indeed, they often furnish more bandwidth at lower cost in shorter order than traditional carriers.

But Ethernet local exchange carriers (EtherLECs) fall short of improving on Sonet in one key area: management. They can't match Sonet's sophisticated diagnostics, since they can't easily collect data about the analog characteristics of their links (power consumed, temperature, voltage, and the like). Further, today's EtherLECs have a tough time combining management with moneymaking. They can't, for instance, easily match up the physical characteristics of their links with data about the users and content.

New metro platforms from the likes of Atrica Inc. or World Wide Packets Inc. propose to solve at least some of these management woes. But to use these products, carriers need to rip out and replace the switches and routers they now use. That could spell big bucks for providers who've already sunk a fortune into another vendor's gear. Custom integration of multiple management systems also can do the trick. But this approach is costly, and using multiple management systems taxes network overhead.

Aura Networks' product aims to offer comprehensive management without ripping out existing hardware or taking a performance hit. It does this using software algorithms that carve out a separate channel from the blank space between Ethernet packets. The proprietary channel is used to monitor and retrieve data about the Ethernet link, including performance statistics, analog functions, and user information. All this data in turn can be forwarded to SLA (service-level agreement) software, billing systems, or other management packages.

In order for it to work, a Radiance box must be in place at both ends of the link. To make this economical, Aura offers a multichannel model, the 17-slot R5000 ($3,500), for use in carrier POPs. At the customer premises, the two-slot R1000 ($1,130) can be installed to handle one redundant link. The end result is a low-cost way to improve the management of EtherLEC connections.

Aura's getting kudos for its approach -- in spite of its confusing presentation. "I haven't seen another comprehensive product for pure Ethernet," says David Passmore, research director at The Burton Group..

"This is significantly cheaper than anything else I've seen," says Kevin Mitchell of Infonetics Research Inc.

The key drawback of the Radiance System is that it's not a switch or router -- even though Aura Networks seems content to leave this point ambiguous, going so far as to say the box has "dynamic bandwidth provisioning" capabilities. In reality, the box can open a new channel to replace a failed one. There is no routing or switching.

"Most carriers want to shape traffic in their routers anyway," says Passmore. "You need this box and and a switch or router." Eventually, he notes, Aura may seek to license its solution as an embedded add-on for router or switch vendors.

The Radiance R5000 and associated software is slated to ship this week. The R1000 is slated to ship in February.

-- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading

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