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Optical/IP

Emperative Intros Provisioning Suite

Emperative Inc. says it can help carriers automatically provision services based on optical equipment from Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) and Redback Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RBAK).

The features are part of Emperative's ProvEn Optical suite being unveiled today at a conference in New Orleans. The company says it's already got a carrier customer for the product -- but can't name names.

Emperative's one of two independent software vendors (ISVs) to unveil optical provisioning packages this week. Archrival Syndesis Ltd. also is announcing optical provisioning tools today (see Syndesis Ups Provisioning Ante).

Like Syndesis, Emperative says its tools will streamline the process of specifying and activating services based on optical networking gear. The product does this by automatically discovering equipment that's live in the carrier's network, then using a variety of interfaces to configure them automatically. This approach, Emperative says, allows carriers to achieve automated control over a large volume of different services.

Emperative also claims to have mechanisms in place that let carriers extend "self provisioning" to end users. In this scenario, business customers place service orders and make adjustments remotely as needed, typically over the Web.

Analysts say tools like Emperative's are vital to the future of emerging services. "Today's provisioning processes are a bottleneck," says Scott Clavenna, president of PointEast Research LLC and director of research at Light Reading. There's no way, he says, for the industry to grow, given current provisioning methods. It's tough to increase broadband service volume if field technicians must manually intervene to tweak devices every time a change is required.

It's also important that provisioning tools come from an independent source. "I like how Emperative's focusing on provisioning of optical services, end-to-end, across multiple platforms," Clavenna says. "This is key to true optical services creation, because few carriers will adopt an end-to-end solution from a single [equipment supplier]."

The new automated provisioning tools from ISVs are a breakthrough, but much remains to be done. For one thing, the scope of tools is limited: Emperative's ProvEN suite communicates with just two optical devices, the Redback SmartEdge Sonet multiplexer and Ciena's CoreDirector switch. The vendor says it plans support of gear from Appian Communications, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Cyras Systems Inc., and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) before the end of this quarter.

Syndesis's optical roster includes Ciena and Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR). It also supports routers from Cisco. The company, like its rival, promises to add support for more devices in short order.

But Emperative says time is on its side. According to CEO Abraham Gutman, one of its leading differentiators from Syndesis is the short time it takes to add device compatibility to its suite. "We can add a new box orders of magnitude faster than anyone else," he asserts. "We can add new device capabilities within one to two man months."

Clearly, the two ISVs are in hot competition to deliver the best provisioning capabilities to the most vendors first. And, in a way, the race itself points up a problem -- specifically, that the mechanisms used by ISVs to interact with optical equipment are strictly proprietary right now. Carriers must wait for ISVs to extend support to the particular devices in their networks -- or pay handsomely to get it done on order. (Both Emperative and Syndesis concede that prices for their wares begin at about $500,000 and quickly get into the millions.)

Meanwhile, the jury's still out on just how effective these products are going to be. So far, while both Emperative and Syndesis appear to have a solid clientele for other types of provisioning (Syndesis has succeeded in ATM; Emperative in cable), neither can publicly claim a customer for its optical wares.

Although Emperative and Syndesis seem furthest along in offering multivendor optical provisioning packages, competition is heating up quickly, sources say. The following are a few of the companies that reportedly are working in this space:

-- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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