Crescent Angles for the Edge
Crescent Networks Inc. says it closed a $24 million funding round back in April, bringing its total funding to date to $66 million. The investors -- Jafco Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, St. Paul Venture Capital, and Venrock Associates -- were all previous Crescent backers, says Crescent CEO Gerald Wesel.
The revelation comes as Crescent, a quiet company, has decided to come out of its shell a little and talk to some press and industry analysts. "We're not going to do a press release," explains Wesel. "We're just telling people in person."
The company makes an edge router, the VRX-1000, that is similar to Redback Networks Inc.'s (Nasdaq: RBAK) SmartEdge 800 edge router in its approach. The box sits in a central office between a core Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) or Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switch and an enterprise access device. In a single chassis, the product supports several "virtual routers." Like a separate physical router, each virtual router runs its own instance of routing protocols, routing tables, buffer memory, and management software (see Redback's Edge Router Redux).
The theory behind this approach to edge routing is to allow a carrier to fix a problem in one of the virtual routers without bringing down the whole box. Also, it saves the service provider from having to put a dedicated physical edge router at each customer site -- and it's presumably better than having a chassis with dozens of router line cards, because of its ability to scale.
"We can literally support a thousand isolated, secure, quality-of-service-enabled virtual private network customers on one box," says Wesel.
Crescent claims its VRX-1000 can work better in a network with older ATM switches than can Redback's SmartEdge 800.
"They claim to do about 500 virtual routers per chassis, and their virtual routers don't have quality of service or service-level agreement guarantees, since their virtual routers are connected over an IP backbone supporting GRE [generic routing encapsulation]," says Abhay Joshi, Crescent's VP of business development and strategy. "Our virtual routers are more flexible in terms of access and core interfaces. They work over ATM, MPLS, IP through GRE, or any alternative technology such as optical."
Redback's VP of marketing, Shailesh Shukla, says Joshi's comments are off the mark. "We've demonstrated 2,000 virtual routers per chassis on the SmartEdge 800. We support the entire range of quality-of-service features required in networks. And we have the ability to provide any service or any protocol over any circuit on any port on any slot."
"Crescent is obliged to assert some differentiators -- because, otherwise, why pay attention to them?" says Ron Westfall, an analyst at Current Analysis.
Besides baiting its competitors, Crescent is collecting praise for its engineering bent. Bradam Group Principal Doug Green, who did some consulting work for Jafco, says he's impressed with Crescent's routing focus. "There are a lot of Layer 2 MPLS switches out there that say they'll add routing, but the few companies that do routing well are those that have been very focused on it. To [Crescent], routing isn't just a hobby."
Green adds that the value of Crescent's box is that a large incumbent carrier could go to its frame-relay customer base and sell Layer 2 or Layer 3 virtual private networks (VPNs) as an added service, without having to uproot its existing core switches.
"They do appear to be doing more with less," says Westfall. "They're doing a good job of avoiding the 'God box' trap because their whole proposition rests on edge routing. They'll likely avoid the mistakes made by Sedona Networks and Gotham Networks, which tried to be too many things to too many people." (See Sedona's Sad Demise.)
In March, Crescent announced a distribution agreement with Japan's NTT-ME, the systems integrator affiliate of NTT Communications Corp. So far, NTT-ME is Crescent's only paying customer, but Crescent says it has been focused exclusively on supporting the company for a while and hopes its dedication will pay off with some carrier sales through NTT-ME in the near future.
Though Redback is Crescent's closest competitor, the company also competes with Allegro Networks Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), CoSine Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: COSN), Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT).
— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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