Optical/IP Networks

Netrake Develops a Tool for the Edge

Within the next year or so, Richardson, Texas-based Netrake Corp. hopes to have put its mitts on some significant funding and put its box in carriers’ hands for testing.

The eight-month-old startup is wading into an increasingly crowded pool, though, as there are plenty of companies out there with equipment designed to help carriers aggregate network traffic and meet quality of service (QOS) requirements (see Gotham Networks Joins Crowd on the Edge).

Specifically, what Netrake aims to do is provide a box that sits between broadband subscribers and the rest of the network. The Netrake box will separate sets of network traffic for subscribers and classify the traffic according to its application and destination.

In theory, Netrake’s gear will allow carriers to sell different kinds of services, to different kinds of customers, over the same network. Founders Joel Fontenot and Brian Forbes say the Netrake box will be able to monitor and manage all the information flowing through to the edge of a network so that carriers can offer very specific service-level agreements.

In other words, the box will, for example, ensure the carrier that a corporate customer’s voice-over-IP phone calls would make it through the network securely and uninterrupted even during peak Internet usage times.

To pull that off, Netrake’s box will need to analyze and process data at very high speeds. Though its early to give final product specifications, Netrake says it has just the right kind of technology for the job in its network processor, which is based on the chip technology that Austin-based Agere took with them to Lucent in January for $415 million in stock (see Network Processors Proliferate).

Vic Bennett, inventor of Agere’s high-speed, programmable chip, provided Netrake with startup capital and sits on the company’s board. Dallas-based Arkoma Venture Partners also provided seed funding. Netrake officials won’t say how much funding the company has gotten to date.

Rather than looking at each piece of data on a packet-by-packet basis, Netrake says its box develops an algorithm for each type of packet and then it applies that algorithm to every other packet in the data stream, thus saving processing power.

To be sure, Netrake is joining a flock of competitors who do either several parts or all of what its box purports to do. These include startups Ellacoya Networks Inc. and Quarry Technologies Inc. as well as big vendors like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) (see Quarry Mines IP For Gold and Ellacoya Elaborates ).

Netrake, however, maintains its product will be smarter and faster than what’s already out there. “Our competition assumes that the network connection has just one type of traffic — that one size fits all,” says Forbes. “But when you can aggregate, switch, and label data automatically, based on its application, it will result in more connections for carriers, and that leads to more consumption of bandwidth.”

The idea behind Netrake is both popular and compelling, so much so that busy guy Joel Fontenot, who also founded Arkoma Venture Partners, has cut back on his VC activity to help Netrake prosper. “One hundred percent of my time is spent here at Netrake,” Fontenot says. “The other 20 percent I spend working with Arkoma.”

-- Phil Harvey, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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