Cisco Founder Goes Optical

Len Bosack, one of the founders of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), is back in networking, this time with a way to let enterprises control their own optical networks.

Word of the company's appliance, the DXM, leaked in July when Bosack's XKL LLC subtly put a bunch of information up on its Website. But today is the formal launch and the first time Bosack is willing to explain the product and the rationale behind it. (See XKL Tackles Metro Optical.)

XKL isn't a startup -- it's 16 years old. Which suggests an obvious question: What the heck have they been doing all this time?

Not burning up venture funding, for one thing. In fact, Bosack says he's footed the entire bill for XKL himself. He won't offer an estimate of what it's cost, saying only that it hasn't been a lot.

"This is not Procket. We can tell the difference between getting the job done at a reasonable price and not," Bosack says. (Ouch. See Procket Reaches 'End of Life'.)

Just north of 30 employees now, XKL started out researching computer I/O and selling a clone version of some obsolete Digital Equipment hardware. "It wasn't a big market, but it did give us some field experience in what we do now," Bosack says.

To find a bigger market, Bosack changed course around 2001 to optical networking, targeting businesses that would otherwise need dark fiber. "What we're trying to convince them of is: We allow you to light your own fiber and not have the phone company involved," says Robert Michaels, XKL's chief engineer.

The DXM is a 10-port optical system, pizza-box sized and stackable in groups of four. Port speeds go up to 2.5 Gbit/s or 10 Gbit/s, depending on which model you've got.

What makes the box enterprise-friendly is that it's also got a user interface built to resemble the command-line interface used with Cisco routers. That way, the box is familiar to the operators and technicians who are accustomed to routers. (Telecom optical equipment typically uses a different type of interface, called TL1.)

XKL says this removes one major barrier to businesses owning their own fiber. "We want it to be deployed by people who aren't optical engineers," Bosack says.

Remote sites for disaster recovery are becoming popular -- and mandated by law, in some industries -- and the distances involved call for fiber networks. XKL argues that enterprises and data centers can save money on leasing this fiber and gain more freedom. Data backups could be scheduled at the company's whim and without having to pay an outside service, for example.

Thing is, you need access to fiber, which not every building has yet. That, and the user interface issue, create a "Fear of Fiber" that XKL has to overcome, Michaels says. "For those who are willing to run the backhoe across the parking lot to get to metro fiber, it does change the way you handle your data. It does change the way you run your organization," Bosack says.

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vmg00 12/5/2012 | 3:04:23 PM
re: Cisco Founder Goes Optical Will this is going to be a better solution for smaller enterprize I doubt anybody with different opinion? Even if they can control their boxes, what about the cost of dark fiber and downtime in case of fiber cut?
BradyQ 12/5/2012 | 3:04:17 PM
re: Cisco Founder Goes Optical Having worked for XKL, with Mr Michaels and Mr Bosack, my opinion-- Robert is among the best HW engineers I have ever met and Len may be the worlds premiere architect of this sort of system. I'm not an expert on the market, but I am sure it will be a rock solid system. Don't discount them.
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