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May 27, 2008
Zeugma Systems Inc. comes out of hiding today to talk about an edge router that, it says, has been crafted to help carriers produce new services more quickly -- an idea that's been popular with router vendors lately.
Built around a development team that helped create the Redback Networks Inc. SmartEdge router, Zeugma was named after an ancient Mesopotamian city that, even after being conquered by the Roman Empire, held its status as a key trading hub.
Zeugma the company wants its technology to be associated with transport and wealth generation, just like the city. Whether it wants to get invaded is less certain.
"Conquered by Rome? It may be the will of God," CEO Andrew Harries says. (He's joking, folks.)
The Zeugma Services Node (ZSN) that's debuting today is an edge router, as expected. (See Zeugma Gets $13.5M for Mystery Box and Stealthy Zeugma Pockets $22.5M.)
What's different is that its card slots can accommodate computing blades instead of routing blades, if desired. The 14-slot version of the ZSN (there's a six-slot version, too) has just 12 available slots, so there's a tradeoff: Every computing card takes one slot away from routing, and vice-versa. It's possible for the ZSN to pack 720 Gbit/s worth of I/O ports, or 520,000 Dhrystone MIPS of computing capacity, but not both.
The box has a switching capacity of 240 Gbit/s, using the usual method of counting both ingress and egress traffic. Zeugma expects to increase this to match the I/O capacity next year.
That computing power creates a "sandbox," as Zeugma calls it, for application building. It also lets the router host policy management functions that normally sit on servers.
This means applications can tap routing information. For example, the router can tell if a particular video stream isn't getting the bandwidth it needs, or it can decline a request to start a video stream if it knows the bandwidth isn't there.
It also means that when new services arise, the carrier can develop them (or have a software company develop them) directly on the router, rather than waiting for a router vendor to craft a new blade. Zeugma claims this can speed up the development process.
"Carrier-grade reliability and restoration have tended to be at odds with the dynamism and rapid service deployment of high-performance computing," Harries says.
The kinds of services Zeugma has in mind include VOIP quality monitoring, advert insertion for IPTV, or guaranteed bandwidth set aside for video. But others are likely to spring up unpredictably, leaving telcos prone to getting beaten to market by nimbler competitors, including Web companies like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG).
That's leading telcos to seek out ways to get applications built more quickly.
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"I'm starting to see internal skunkworks projects inside the big carriers that are separate from old-school thinking," says IDC analyst Matt Davis. "The telcos, particularly, are willing to experiment a bit with using third-party developers."
Router vendors have responded accordingly. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) introduced its Intelligent Services Gateway -- kind of a server on a blade -- in 2006. Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) has put a strong emphasis on policy management with its C-series of policy appliances. (See Cisco Intros ISG, Juniper Pushes Services Policy, and Juniper Fits Chunghwa's New Plan.).
Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) claims to have been taking this approach all along with its 7750 Services Router -- hence the name. It's added deep packet inspection (DPI) to the 7750 line recently. Similarly, Redback, now owned by Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), put service-oriented capabilities such as DPI into its SmartEdge 1200 last year. (See AlcaLu Beefs Up Its Routers and Redback Beefs Up Its Router.)
But Zeugma wanted to take a different approach.
Vancouver-based Zeugma was founded in 2004 and has grown to 125 employees. It started after founder and CTO Siegfried Luft left Redback, taking with him a core team from Siara, the chip startup that fueled Redback's SmartEdge line after being acquired in 1999. (See Redback Unveils Siara Product.)
In 1999, Siara was deemed to be worth $4.3 billion in Redback stock. It would take a flock of Siaras to reach that kind of valuation today, which brings up a point: How could a router company raise funding in 2004?
"I wouldn't say that we shook the money tree and it fell into our laps," Harries says. Most of the usual-suspect VCs told him they were taking a break from things like edge routers.
For those who would listen, the dearth of router startups made Zeugma's pitch stand out, and the company has raised nearly $40 million from BDC Venture Capital , Granite Ventures LLC , GrowthWorks WV Funds , Ventures West Management Inc. , Vertex Venture Holdings , and Yaletown Venture Partners . (See Stealthy Zeugma Pockets $22.5M.)
While the ZSN could end up being applicable to a swath of applications, the one Zeugma is pushing most heavily is YouTube-like, over-the-top video. File sizes for that sort of service are expected to grow, especially as more sites provide high-definition video. Moreover, that traffic comes from unpredictable sources at unpredictable times -- it's more complex than delivering plain TV.
And instead of adopting management strategies to limit such bandwidth-hungry services -- for example, throttling the traffic -- Zeugma's team suggests carriers could find ways to build new services instead.
A paid level of over-the-top video quality is one possibility, and a recent survey conducted by IDC's Davis suggests many users would consider paying for guaranteed service levels.
Zeugma's story has already attracted some attention. The company claims to have four Tier 1 carriers in trials -- two in North America, and two in Western Europe. The only one being named so far is BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA).
As noted, other router vendors are addressing the same service creation and control issues, and have different ways to deal with them. Juniper, for one, insists policy controls are better placed outside the router and preaches a concept of openness related to its Partner Solution Development Platform. (See Juniper Opens Up to Apps Developers.)
"The service providers that I talk to, including one of the largest in the U.S., can create five services a month to test," says Kim Perdikou, Juniper's executive VP of infrastructure products. "What they can't do is get the OSS, the billing, all of that done. That's the point that slows them down. So, if we can open up information and intelligence out of the network to speak to partners to get that done for them, that accelerates the service delivery."
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading
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