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Optical/IP Networks

Force10 Rakes It In

Force10 Networks Inc. today announced a $74.9 million round of funding, a sum it says will allow it to become a public company next year.

The company has raised $284 million to date, a considerable pile for a company that started life in 1999. Meritech Capital Partners and Morgenthaler co-led the latest funding round, with new investor Crosslink Capital joining existing investors U.S. Venture Partners, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), and WorldView Technology Partners.

Force10 has recently made some notable customers wins, including NASA, the Department of Homeland Security, NTT-ME , and MCI Inc. (Nasdaq: WCOEQ, MCWEQ).

VP of marketing Andrew Feldman predicts that the company will be profitable next year, while expanding its sales operation to about 100 people from 55.

That momentum helped Force10 claim the pole position in Light Reading's list of Top 10 Private Companies (see Force10 Networks).

The Milpitas, Calif.-based company was the first to market with a full-featured switch capable of wire-speed performance at 10 Gbit/s, and has already partnered with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) in the enterprise space. Force10’s core offering is the E-series range of switch/routers.

Analyst firm Yankee Group says the 10-Gbit/s swtich market will grow from about $120 million in 2003 to a whopping $900 million in 2005 (see 10-Gigabit Ethernet Switches and Routers). Despite this, the R&D required, the competition, and startup costs make the market prohibitive for new entrants.

Comings and goings within Force10 have also suggested that an IPO is in the offing. For example, Ralph Harms was hired as CFO, thanks to his track-record for taking companies public.

As far back as 2001, Force10 was also plucking staff from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) (see Force10 Plucks Cisco, Juniper Talent).

At that time, Marc Randall, a seven-year Cisco engineer, was lured to Force10 to become vice president of engineering. Randall is now the company’s CEO.

Feldman won't talk about specific products on the horizon, but he notes that security will be a top priority. The company is planning to improve its access control list features, its denial-of-service (DOS) attack prevention, and its ability to fend off worms.

He also says Force10 will be working to drive down the cost of 10-Gigabit Ethernet over the coming months. This new funding round helps Force10 weather the storms created by price cuts in an ultra-competitive sector.

Force10's head-to-head competitors include Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), and Cisco, which is doing its utmost to unsettle its rivals with a cut-price offer (see Cisco Bombs 10-GigE Pricing).

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-gen Data Center Forum

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