Laurel Steps Up on the Edge

As competition for the multiservice edge intensifies, Laurel Networks Inc. is shoring up its position with a software release announced today.

Laurel's ShadeTree 3.0 should do plenty to stave off recent competitive challenges from Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA), says Steve Vogelsang, Laurel's VP of marketing.

The multiservice edge is a hotly contested zone of the next-generation network. Its job is to funnel varying traffic types -- Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), Ethernet, Frame Relay -- into Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) form for transport across an Internet Protocol (IP) network core (see Edge-Router Evolution and HR Sets Course to Convergence).

Every major equipment vendor is pursuing this architecture, with some notable names making land grabs in the past year. Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Tellabs are getting into the race through their purchases of TiMetra Networks and Vivace Networks, respectively. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) targets this area with the 7600 router, although the 10000 and 12000 also get pitched for edge-router duty. And Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) reportedly is readying an edge router called Neptune (see Nortel's Soft Sell).

Last week, Juniper trotted out the M320, a new router specifically for the multiservice edge. Meanwhile, Tellabs beefed up its 8800 line with features including virtual private LAN services (VPLS), a cornerstone of virtual private network (VPN) offerings. (See Juniper Hatches the M320, Has Juniper Gotta Sinatra? , and Tellabs Sharpens Its Edge.)

All this activity puts more on Laurel, as it now squares off against bigger players with deeper pockets and more populous salesforces. Moreover, most of Laurel's potential acquirers have picked other dance partners, cutting off possible exit strategies for the startup.

The competition "validates" Laurel's plans, according to Vogelsang. Of course, the competition could also validate Laurel right out of existence. But Vogelsang still talks a tough game. Pointing to the Juniper and Tellabs announcements in particular, he contends that "neither platform has the architecture required" to conquer the multiservice edge. Juniper's features are fragmented between its M and ERX routers, he says, while Tellabs is mostly a Layer 2 play that's not as strong as Laurel in its Layer 3 packet forwarding.

"Laurel has always competed with these players," says Kevin Mitchell, an analyst covering routers for Infonetics Research Inc. He says Laurel's primary problem is the same as always: Cisco dominates the router market, and Juniper wipes up most of what's left.

Laurel's new software, ShadeTree 3.0, adds VPLS support, in the form of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Lasserre-V.Kompella draft. This is an area where Laurel needed to catch up. Tellabs made its move last week, and Cisco announced VPLS support for the 7600 in December. Juniper officials say they've been shipping VPLS as well, having demonstrated the technology in February 2003 (see VPLS Standard Debated).

VPLS support is a must, but deployment has only recently begun, and the standard is still in flux, so the delay shouldn't hurt Laurel. "It's not that Laurel has missed out on big deals because of VPLS," Mitchell says.

ShadeTree 3.0 also beefs up Laurel's B-RAS story by adding L2TP Network Server (LNS) support for up to 128,000 sessions. B-RAS (broadband remote access server) features help the its ST200 router face off against Redback Networks Inc.'s (Nasdaq: RBAK) boxes and Juniper's ERX line of routers. Most of Laurel's competition against Juniper has been with the ERX platform, which was designed for B-RAS, rather than the M series of routers, Vogelsang says.

Finally, ShadeTree 3.0 adds support for high availability, a category of features intended to keep a router running during maintenance or failures. High availability is a big deal in the core router world, with the most sophisticated offerings coming from next-generation suppliers such as Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), but it's also being demanded at the edge.

"High availability... is one of the must-haves of the next-generation IP networks," Mitchell says.

In Laurel's case, high availability refers to Laurel Instant Versioning ("Live"), a software feature that keeps the router running while software patches get added.

Competitors were quick to point out that this isn't the same as being able to do a complete software upgrade in "hot" mode.

"This is not a hitless software upgrade from version 3.0 to version 4.0. It's not major-league stuff," says David Boland, Juniper's product marketing manager for edge networks and IP services. Juniper supports bits-and-pieces upgrades in a fashion similar to Laurel's Live, he says. "It's not huge. Vivace can do it, WaveSmith can do it, and Équipe can do it."

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
For more on the multiservice edge and the IP/MPLS core, see the Heavy Reading report, "Setting a Course to Convergence: The Incumbents' Wireline Strategies." For more on B-RAS features, see the Heavy Reading report, "Next-Generation DSL Equipment: The Path to Profitability." For more about VPNs and the multiservice edge, see these Light Reading Webinars:
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