Ipsum Takes On IP Net Management

Ipsum Networks, a small startup based in Philadelphia, announced its series B round of funding earlier this week. The company, which has developed tools for monitoring and managing IP networks, closed a $6 million round, bringing its total raised so far to $7.5 million. Rho Ventures of New York City, led the round, and its original seed investor, Sevin Rosen Funds, also contributed.

While $6 million doesn’t seem like much money, in this environment any cash is important, especially for a small startup.

Ipsum’s Route Dynamics tool monitors and “listens” to Internet routing protocols and draws a picture of the Layer 3 IP network with a real time view of where traffic is flowing and why. This is similar in concept to widely used management systems like Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (NYSE: HPQ) Openview and Spectrum. But these systems only draw maps of the physical elements of a network. They can’t show which routes the traffic is actually flowing over.

If this story sounds familiar, it is. Judy Estrin, the former CTO of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), has started a company called Packet Design LLC, which launched a product called Route Explorer that aims for similar goals (see Packet Design's Routing 'Spy' ). In fact, Packet Design was recently reorganized to specifically market this product (see Packet Design Reshuffled)

Although Ipsum is currently focused on the enterprise market, the technology is well suited for use in carrier networks, because it solves a key problem for providers. Carriers are often leery of IP, because it doesn’t offer the same kind of trouble-shooting and management tools that circuit technology offers. In the TDM circuit world, a network administrator can backtrack through the circuits to figure out a problem. But the nature of IP is such that there are multiple paths that can be taken through a network, making trouble-shooting difficult. A tool such as Ipsum’s or Packet Design’s gives carriers insight into the network to help make fixing problems easier and faster.

“With IP you don’t have any visibility into how the traffic got from point A to point B,” says Frank Hayes, vice president of marketing and business development for Ipsum. “But we can see the circuits through the IP cloud, and can tell you if the traffic is going through that router or this router over here.”

The first release of Ipsum’s Route Dynamics supports BGP and OSPF, two key routing protocols for enterprise users. But Hayes says the company has plans to add IS-IS, a protocol often coupled with BGP in service provider networks.

While Ipsum and Packet Design's Route Explorer are similar in their actual function, Hayes points out some differences between the two companies’ products. The key, he says, is that Ipsum uses a distributed design to implement its solution, whereas Packet Design relies on a single appliance.

In the Ipsum solution, a one-rack-unit-high box sits in close proximity to a group of routers and listens to the routing protocols that are being exchanged between them. It then sends the information back to a central repository, which is a two-rack-unit-high server. Here the server takes the data, analyzes it, and draws a complete logical map of the Layer 3 network, showing exactly where the routes are flowing.

Similar to Ipsum, Packet Design listens to the routing protocols going back and forth between routers. It also draws a map of the logical routes and can isolate Layer 3 routing problems, but Hayes says that because the product is limited to a single appliance it doesn’t scale as well. The Packet Design device is limited in the number of routers it can observe by the number of physical ports on each box.

Even if customers find Ipsum’s differentiator compelling, Packet Design still has a leg up on the company. It already employs twice as many people and has raised over five times as much cash as Ipsum. What’s more, Packet Design’s marquee founder could make competing with them a challenge. But Hayes remains positive about Ipsum’s opportunities.

“We don’t have the public profile of Judy Estrin, but our founders are experts in this field,” he says. “When it comes down to technical credibility, they can talk to the best of the routing gurus out there.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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