Laurel Launches Edge Router
Taking on Cisco at routing would generally be considered a foolish move for any small startup, except for one thing: Laurel’s strategy is remarkably similar to that employed by Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) -- the only company that has successfully challenged Cisco’s dominance of the router market to date.
The key difference is that, whereas Juniper attacked Cisco in the market for core Internet routers, Laurel is focusing its efforts at the other end of the network: the edge.
But has the ST200 got the right stuff? The product boasts an array of features optimized for the edge of the network, including high-performance distributed routing and forwarding functions, as well as dedicated -- or “per-customer” -- virtual routing tables, traffic shaping, class-based queuing, and differentiated services. Additionally, the device will use hardware-based counters to collect billing stats, Laurel says.
The ST200 also comes with “multi-lingual” line cards, supporting multiple protocols. This allows service providers to reduce capex by using the same hardware to route ATM, frame relay, gigabit Ethernet, and IP traffic over the same backbone -- without having to buy and swap different flavors of card in and out of the router chassis.
“[The ST200] is interesting, design-wise,” comments David Newman, president of Network Test Inc.. “Virtual routing allows you to dedicate router resources to each customer, and that’s a very smart move -- especially if you are making boxes that are customer-facing. The big challenge for Laurel will be keeping the content of those tables in sync. If you have N tables, how do you ensure that table 1 has the same contents as table N? That can be a real showstopper.”
Newman says that Laurel faces an uphill battle competing with the likes of Cisco and Juniper, but not an impossible one. “Edge routing is a new market. Cisco is dominant, but not necessarily indomitable. Can a startup make money at its expense? It’s possible, and I’d offer Juniper Networks as exhibit A."
Still, it won’t be easy. Cisco isn’t resting on its laurels (sorry). It’s already made some pre-emptive moves to strengthen its edge routing story (see Cisco Puts Service Creation on Edge). Juniper’s product line is starting to look increasingly edgy (see Juniper Goes to the Edge). Unisphere Networks Inc. also has recently started to make some serious money from sales of its ERX edge router (see Unisphere Posts 47% Revenue Growth ). And several other startups are targeting this area, including Amber Networks Inc. (see Amber Illuminates Edge Product), and Quarry Technologies Inc. (see Quarry Mines Another Product).
Laurel says the ST200’s biggest differentiator against the products from its competitors is speed. “We’re not trying to take folk on in the T1 market. We’re more of a high-end edge play,” says Stephen Vogelsang co-founder and vice president of marketing at Laurel. While the ST200 will support T1 (1.5 Mbit/s) connections, where it really excels is supporting very large numbers of DS3 (45 Mbit/s), OC3 (155 Mbit/s), OC12 (622 Mbit/s), and gigabit Ethernet ports, he claims.
Laurel makes no secret of the fact that it is trying to follow in Juniper’s footsteps, contending the strategy has helped it secure financing. “That’s exactly what we told the VCs, and it made it a lot easier to get funding,” says Vogelsang. The company has garnered almost $80 million in two rounds of funding (see Laurel Networks Scores Big Round ).
Still, there’s one important area in which Laurel is not following Juniper’s playbook: the poaching of Cisco employees. Juniper made a point of hiring large numbers of Cisco software engineers to ensure that the code in its routers would be compatible with Cisco’s. This turned out to be a key move. It increased service providers’ comfort level with Juniper’s products and made it much easier for them to deploy its routers in heterogeneous networks.
“I don’t know that we have anyone from Cisco on the development side,” says Vogelsang. “Then again, there may not be anybody left there to take.”
Laurel says it will demonstrate the ST200 at the Supercomm trade show in Atlanta next month.
— Stephen Saunders, Founding Editor, Light Reading
For more information on Supercomm 2001, please visit the Light Reading Supercomm 2001 Preview Site.