Optical/IP Networks

Foundry Enters WAN Ethernet Fray

ATLANTA -- Foundry Networks made its first move into the Ethernet WAN arena today, Tuesday, announcing a software upgrade for its switches that will allow carriers to offer Ethernet services across Sonet infrastructure.

Foundry's "Global Ethernet" technology is part of the 7.1 release of the IronWare switch software for its BigIron line of Layer 3 switches, which was announced here at the Networld+Interop trade show. Global Ethernet lets carriers derive a new revenue stream from their installed Sonet networks by using them to deliver native Ethernet services at speeds up to 1 Gbit/s, regardless of distance, the vendor says.

Though it seemed a bit rushed, Foundry's announcement still may have helped boost its stock price, which has been sagging of late. Far off its 52-week high of $212 (set back in March), Foundry's per-share price was in the 80s at the start of the month, and briefly slid to below $60 per share last week. Today, the stock rebounded, gaining $4.69 per share to close at $66.94. Foundry, which announced its plans to go after carrier-class customers earlier this year, has been struggling to gain any traction in the market, where it competes with routing giants like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc.(Nasdaq: JNPR).

With its Global Ethernet announcement, Foundry is looking to let Sonet carriers keep some of lunch they'd been losing to a group of metropolitan-area carriers who are ditching Sonet entirely. This group, which includes Telseon and Yipes Communications Inc., is building fiber networks and rolling out IP services over gigabit Ethernet. In general, these outfits are using gigabit Ethernet switches from Cisco and Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), as well as Foundry. The connections between the switches are set up using a new generation of DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) equipment designed for metro environments. (It’s less costly and more flexible than long-distance DWDM equipment.)

Foundry's twist is to offer the same Ethernet advantages (which include greater bandwidth provisioning flexibility, as well as cheaper management) over plain old pervasive Sonet -- an easier migration path.

It's not really a new idea. In fact, the concept of sending Ethernet over Sonet is a central tenet of the forthcoming 10-Gbit/s Ethernet standard from the The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) (see IEEE Nails Down 10-Gig Ethernet Basics). And Foundry will shortly face competition in this market from a slew of WAN Ethernet startups that are building their products from the ground up for this application, rather than upgrading them in software. Those outfits include Force 10 Networks Inc., Lantern Communications, Luminous Networks Inc., World Wide Packets, and Zuma Networks.

To implement Foundry's solution, carriers install one of its boxes at each end of the connection -- a combo platter that starts at $70,000 for a beginner's kit of two Foundry boxes, with packet-over-Sonet interfaces, and the appropriate software. Foundry says those prices won't cause sticker shock, especially since carriers using the new Foundry technology will be able to support thousands of virtual-network links across each Sonet connection.

Plus, carriers are used to paying big bucks for hardware. "Seventy K [for a piece of hardware] is a rounding error for most carriers," says Marshall Eisenberg, director of product marketing for Foundry.

While the Ethernet-over-fiber folks are already racking up customer wins, it may be some time before Foundry has a similar list of Ethernet-over-Sonet carrier customers. On Tuesday, Foundry didn't have much to show in support of its newest release, save for one Canadian service provider that you probably haven't heard of, Stream Intelligent Networks.

Eisenberg said Foundry "just kind of decided to release" the new software, after getting favorable reactions to it from some prospective customers. He said that two carriers in Japan are also testing the technology but were not yet ready to say so publicly.

-- Paul Kapustka, Silicon Valley bureau chief, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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