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Optical/IP

Ironbridge Goes Virtual

Yet another startup is looking to take on Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) for a piece of the core router market.

On Monday Ironbridge Networks Inc. will unveil its SwiftCor routing platform and announce two beta customers. The SwiftCor router will eventually scale to offer 1.3 Tbit/s of capacity, and supports virtual routing capabilities, the vendor says.

Ironbridge’s biggest differentiator is its virtual routing functionality. “This is a hot selling point for carriers,” says Chris Nicoll, VP at Current Analysis.

Essentially, virtual routing allows service providers to create multiple, separate, unique routing tables for different customers on the same routing platform. That delivers a number of benefits. First, it improves security by isolating private network address spaces. Second, it makes it simpler to offer virtual private network (VPN) services and other differentiated IP services.

It also simplifies network configuration; when customers are added to a network the service provider should be able to simply create a unique table, in minutes, rather than spending hours reconfiguring a huge shared list of addresses.

“Virtual routing is the right way to do this," concurs David Newman, president of Network Test. Another option, buying more routers, is "too expensive," he adds.

Still, there could be some drawbacks to using virtual routing, competitors say. Increasing the number of routing tables within a logical router could potentially create management headaches.

“Managing all those routing tables is not a straightforward thing to do,” says Pete Chadwick, VP of product development for Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7). “It’s like managing multiple routers internally.”

While Cisco’s GSR platform still dominates most core networks, Juniper’s growing market share shows that carriers are interested in alternatives. But Ironbridge isn’t the only vendor trying to get into the game. Avici, Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) (via its Nexabit acquisition), Charlotte's Web Networks, and Pluris Inc. all want in, too.

And Ironbridge isn’t alone in offering virtual routing. Cisco is working on adding this feature to its IOS routing software. Lucent also acquired a goldmine of virtual routing expertise when it bought Spring Tide Networks Inc. -- an IP service provisioning vendor that was one of the first to develop virtual routing technology.

Currently, the Ironbridge product is in beta tests with Energis PLC and Qwest Communications Corp. (NYSE:Q), which are testing its 80-Gbit/s chassis. In Q1 2001, the vendor will begin beta testing the entire scalable system, it says, which consists of multiple chassis that can be interconnected via optical fiber to reach a system capacity of 1.3 Tbit/s. The current product offers 16 ports of OC48. OC192 will also be tested in the first quarter of next year.

-- Marguerite Reardon, senior editor, and Stephen Saunders, US editor, Light Reading, http://www.lightreading.com

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