Caspian Comes Out
While the two companies are competing for the same business, they have taken different approaches in terms of which features they’ve emphasized.
Procket’s announcement is all about high-availability routing and programmable hardware (see Procket Gets Unstealthy). But Caspian’s schtick is slightly different. It says its Apeiro router can route traffic based on flows to provide ATM-like quality of service (QOS) over IP. Caspian’s message asserts that making IP more deterministic will allow service providers to make more money through premium end-to-end services like toll-quality voice and streaming video. The company claims this feature also allows carriers to have better control over broadband networks and ultimately enables consolidation of disparate networks.
Like Procket, Caspian claims that its product is based on an architecture dramatically different from that of traditional core routers -- architecture it says will help carriers reduce capital expenditure and operational costs in the future. But unlike Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), Nexabit, and Pluris -- startups that all came out during the Internet bubble -- Caspian and Procket are talking less about multichassis scaleability and more about differentiated software and hardware features.
“Scaleability is something that Juniper has already solved with the T640 and its best-effort approach to handling traffic,” says Faizel Lakhani, vice president of marketing for Caspian. “But how do they offer ATM-quality service over an IP network? They can’t.”
Caspian’s high-end QOS mechanism is all about flow-based routing, says Lakhani. Unlike most routers that forward packets individually, the Apeiro router forwards packets based on flows. This means that Apeiro routes the first packet in the microflow, and subsequent packets in the same flow are then switched to the proper destination. This cuts down significantly on the time it takes for each packet to be identified and appropriately routed.
Using an RSVP-like mechanism, the Apeiro router can supposedly guarantee how the traffic is handled throughout the network. This ensures predictable delay, jitter (delay variation), packet order, and fairness, according to Caspian. Lakhani also claims Apeiro is able to sustain millions of new microflows per 10-Gbit/s interface per second in hardware, much faster than the fastest ATM switch. All this functionality is burned into custom ASICs developed by the Caspian team and now being fabricated by IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM).
The putative benefit is that with improved QOS carriers can feel more comfortable about sending their Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and Frame Relay traffic over an Internet Protocol (IP) or Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) backbone. It’s clear that carriers are moving in this direction already. For example, Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) says it plans to migrate all of its ATM, Frame Relay, and private-line services over an IP/MPLS core. Other carriers -- including BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS), SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) -- have announced plans to use MPLS as a convergence technology, as well.
But the question remains. Who will carriers choose to build out their infrastructures? Clearly, the market leaders, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), will win a significant amount of this business, especially in North America. Many of the interexchange carriers that have deployed IP backbones have installed generations of Cisco and Juniper gear in their networks. It’s also clear that the regional Bells are already laying their bets with these incumbents.
“Caspian has staked a claim on this flow-based hardware architecture,” says Michael Howard co-founder and principal analyst at Infonetics Research Inc. “They’re the only ones I know doing it. It seems like a good approach, but now we have to see if anyone wants to buy it.”
Caspian says it is in a total of 35 carrier trials right now, though it has not yet generated any revenue. The company was supposedly working closely with Cable & Wireless (NYSE: CWP), but analysts question how helpful this will be, given C&W’s financial and organizational issues right now (see C&W Puts New Duo in Charge).
The Asian market is likely to be where both Caspian and Procket find success first. China, Korea, and Japan have all seen an explosion in IP traffic growth as a result of broadband deployments in metro networks. Procket has already announced it is focused on the Japanese market.
The success of these startups may come down to cash in the bank. Caspian has raised about $262 million, Procket roughly $272 million. Both companies have trimmed their workforce and are conservatively managing their cash.
“I don’t think there is a private company out there without cash concerns,” says Erik Suppiger, an analyst with Pacific Growth Equities Inc. “I can’t say for sure if either of them will run out of money, but I’m sure they are monitoring it very carefully.”
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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