Atrica Finds Its Lightpath
Lightpath, a local exchange carrier serving chunks of the eastern United States including New York City, began deploying Atrica's A-4100 and A-2100 boxes late last year in an aggressive campaign to put all new services onto Ethernet. (The A-8000 series of core switches is approved but not in Lightpath's plans yet, says Umesh Kukreja, Atrica's director of product marketing.) (See Lightpath Deploys Atrica in NY.)
So, good news for Atrica. But any Ethernet vendor has to realize that, with such success, comes a two-pronged danger. First, from the low end, as Ethernet's rapid commoditization and heavy use of standards makes inexpensive competitors inevitable. And in higher-end boxes, there's Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which can be relied upon to crash just about any Ethernet-related party.
The win with Lightpath is a good way for Atrica to secure its footing, as it is aggressively pushing all new services onto Ethernet. Moreover, Lightpath is a local exchange carrier with a TDM history, meaning its customers have Sonet-like expectations for Ethernet services. "Lightpath was adamant it wanted to offer 50-millisecond protection for all types of services at all price points," Kukreja says.
"It's an ideal Ethernet customer to have if you are a vendor like Atrica," says Stan Hubbard, an analyst with Heavy Reading.
That kind of showcase could be important as carrier Ethernet continues to draw attention from Atrica's competitors. In addition to Cisco, there's Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), which has been on the rise with IPTV buildouts and its Ethernet-only 7450 router. Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK) , a long-term champion of carrier-class Ethernet, is in the mix as well. (See Carrier Ethernet Makes Its Move.)
"The danger Atrica faces is just being outgunned by the larger players, particularly on triple play," Hubbard says. The Lightpath win "provides some reassurance that Atrica will not be squeezed out of the market," Hubbard says.
To that end, Atrica will have to play up its heritage. The company has targeted carrier Ethernet from the get-go, putting emphasis on some features typically missing from enterprise routers. The Lightpath deployment, for example, lets Atrica show off its ability to support "hard" service level agreements (SLAs) in the form of committed data rates, which Hubbard says is becoming a requirement for more carriers. Atrica recently showed off this feature with its showcase customer, Orange (NYSE: FTE). (See FT Heralds Ethernet Breakthrough.)
More competition is burbling up from below, however. Last week, chip maker Sandburst Corp. launched its latest Metrobox system, a metro Ethernet switch built and sold by Accton Technology Corp. , a Taiwanese original design manufacturer (ODM) with a history of selling cheap LAN switches.
Sandburst can take credit for the box, having supplied all the key chips, the network processors and switch fabrics that make it go. The new Metrobox comes with 24 ports of Gigabit Ethernet plus two optional 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports. That makes it suitable for the edge of the network, or for the basement of a multitenant unit.
"It reflects the ODMs getting to the stage of this sophistication to develop this kind of hardware," says Dan Harding, Sandburst's vice president of marketing.
Metrobox targets small access devices, but Sandburst thinks it can spread the concept throughout the metro network, including chassis-based metro core boxes -- in other words, to every corner of Atrica's influence. "Eventually we'd like to release an ODM chassis," Harding says.
Other chip companies, including Ireland's Lightstorm Networks, are pursuing a similar path and the trend will accelerate if Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) put more weight into their carrier-Ethernet initiatives.
"The ODMs, plus some emerging Chinese ODMs, are going to jump on this kind of product quickly," says James Finnegan, chief operating officer of Lightstorm.
Atrica remains undaunted. For one, the company might have chances to make allies among the Taiwanese vendors, letting them provide low-cost access boxes around the fringes of an Atrica-laden network. Company officials are convinced they hold an advantage by offering multiple product lines (big, medium, and small) that tie together with one network management system.
"I wouldn't see that as big competition. Just building the platform is not the answer," says Kukreja. "From a service provider perspective, they're looking for an end-to-end [set of products]."
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading