BrightLink's Prospects Brighten
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t rate as a particularly significant development. All it means is that Brightlink is still in the running to sell its switch -- not that a sale is in the bag. And it’s a fair bet that other vendors’ equipment is also being tested by the anonymous IXCs.
Circumstances, however, aren’t normal, because Brightlink is developing a large-scale STS1 grooming switch -– in other words, a switch that sits at the edge of optical backbones, packing and unpacking wavelengths with relatively small 51.8-Mbit/s channels, at the same time as it sets up and tears down wavelengths to other nodes.
Right now, Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) has established a significant lead in this potentially important market. All eyes are fixed on who will emerge as Ciena’s closest competitor.
A few weeks ago, Brightlink appeared to be facing some formidable rivals in the form of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR) (see Brightlink Works on Its Grooming). But since then, Cisco has abandoned its developments (see Cisco Kills Monterey Router), and Sycamore has admitted that problems obtaining a high-capacity grooming fabric -- a vital component of its product -- are holding back commercial shipments of its planned 512x512 grooming switch, once scheduled for this quarter (see Sycamore Drops a Bomb).
Brightlink has bypassed the need for such a muscular grooming fabric by developing a distributed architecture switch that doesn’t rely on state-of-the-art semiconductor technology. Right now, it has a 64x64 switch but says it can link these together for much bigger configurations.
“It’s boiling down to a two-horse race,” says Gary Law, Brightlink’s VP of marketing. “And that Shetland Pony that Ciena’s riding has got very short legs,” he jokes.
Still, there are some dark horses waiting in the wings. One of them might be Corvis Corp. (Nasdaq: CORV). It’s hoping to announce trials of its grooming switch by the end of the year (see Corvis Offers Grooming Tips).
Meantime, Sycamore’s problems are particularly significant because they suggest that other vendors preparing to enter this market might also have trouble meeting their development schedules. That’s because Sycamore says that its problems stem from “yield issues” in the grooming fabric that it buys from an unidentified semiconductor vendor. It’s a fair bet that other vendors are also relying on the same vendor's grooming fabric.
So, who is this mystery semiconductor vendor? The most likely candidate is Velio Communications Inc., a startup that recently announced chips targeting grooming switches (see Velio Breaks Grooming Barrier). At the time, Bill Woodruff, Velio’s VP of marketing, told Light Reading that samples were already being shipped to one of the leading OEO switch players, which suggests it was either Ciena, Cisco, or Sycamore. As Ciena makes its own grooming fabric and Cisco has now pulled out of the running, only Sycamore is left.
Sycamore’s original plans to ship its 512x512 switch this quarter also point the finger at Velio. Velio says it’s already shipping samples, as noted. The only other semiconductor vendor that’s announced plans to develop grooming fabric for large-scale optical switches -- PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS) -- says it won’t start shipping samples until the third quarter of this year. Another possible player -- Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) -- already makes grooming fabric but not for the sort of switch being planned by Sycamore.
Sycamore declines to be drawn on this subject. And Velio, PMC-Sierra, and Vitesse also decline to comment.
-- Peter Heywood, International Editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com