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Optical/IP

NextHop: Fast-Food Routing?

Feel like starting a company but you don't have time to cook up your own routing software? That's the kind of thing NextHop Technologies Inc. has in mind -- routing software for the systems company on the go.

Today, NextHop announced version 9.3 of its routing software that plugs into a hardware platform and -- voila! -- becomes a router. It also announced a partnership agreement with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), which is planning to incorporate the routing code on its NP4GS3 network processor.

This latest version of the software from NextHop, which owns exclusive rights to the routing code originally developed at the University of Michigan, focuses on scaleable routing on the edge of the network.

The software scales the number of routing peers that can be supported in a device from 24 to 150. It also supports up to 500,000 unique routes. And it allows support for up to 64,000 interfaces per device. The software, which supports the full range of routing protocols, including RIP, OSPF, BGP, IS-IS, as well as IPv6, can be used in products like edge routers supporting VPNs, broadband, and DSL aggregation. It can also be used in DWDM platforms, LAN switches, third-generation wireless devices, core routers, firewalls, and servers. The company says it is addressing a market worth more than $1 billion.

"We aren't going after the core router market," says Edward M. Cluss, NextHop's president and CEO. "It's already dominated by Juniper and Cisco. But there is a big opportunity for us in the edge market."

Development of the routing code -- known as "GateD" -- that's the basis of the NextHop product started back in 1987 as part of a University of Michigan research project led by developer Sue Hares. Three years after the project began, the software, which was then open source and free to anyone, was deployed by a customer. By 1995 vendors from all over were using GateD software to develop products. As a result, several of them banded together and formed the Merit GateD Consortiom, so that they could pool resources and share improvements on the code. But by 1999 the consortium model wasn't able to provide improvements rapidly enough, so they decided to allow the software to be commercialized. In 2000, Sue Hares, now the company's CTO, took her exclusive rights to the GateD software and founded NextHop.

As GateD grew up, several vendors used pieces of the code to build routers. The most famous and successful implementation of early GateD software came from Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), which used the code to build its Junos routing software. Other vendors like Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), Charlotte’s Web Networks Ltd., and Hyperchip Inc. have also used versions of GateD to start development of their core routers(see Hyperchip Hypes Its Hardware). And several edge routing companies like CoSine Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: COSN), Luminous Networks Inc., Redback Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RBAK), and Riverstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTN) are currently NextHop customers.

Up until this point, vendors using GateD have had to do a lot of tweaking to the control plane software in order to fit their particular boxes' needs. But with this latest version of code, that will no longer be necessary, according to Dennis J. Tsu, vice president of marketing for the company.

"Our customers are telling us that they don't want to have to do that much customization," he says. "They want something robust enough to just plug into the box and it works."

Startups could potentially save millions by not having to hire a team of expensive software engineers to write code from scratch. And they could bring their products to market much faster. The same principal holds for established vendors.

But is selling third-party software for something as integral and important as routing a good business to be in?

"I really don't know," says Tony Li, chief founder of Procket Networks Inc. and one of the most respected routing engineers around. "I can tell you that long ago I thought about doing something similar and weighed the advantages of being a software vendor and being a systems vendor. Systems certainly looked more attractive, just from a business standpoint. The software vendor has the challenge of getting the real value for their contribution. That's pretty tough. But if Sue has figured this out, more power to her."

Then there's a question of whether or not service providers will buy gear knowing that the vendor did not develop the software itself. Some critics say that this might pass in the enterprise, but in the carrier world it would never fly.

"Sure it sounds good -- you don't have to hire 30 engineers," says David Ginsburg, vice president of product management and marketing for Allegro Networks Inc., which developed its software for its edge router in-house. "But if a service provider found out that someone other than us wrote our software, they would tell us to get out."

Even Juniper, which started building its code with an early version of GateD, agrees that using a plug-and-play version of third-party routing software could be a very tough sell to carriers.

"I think it would be difficult to convince a carrier, particularly in the core," says Kevin Dillon, director of product marketing for Juniper. "Ownership and accountability are very important when dealing with carriers."

But one of the company's venture capital investors argues that NextHop is not just any software company. Sue Hares has been working on GateD since 1987 and is highly regarded in the routing world, says Rob Coneybeer, a partner of New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and NextHop board member. He claims that NextHop's routing software is as robust as software from Juniper or Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).

"Their software is pretty solid," says Coneybeer. "I'm sure there are lots of people out there who would love to OEM Juniper's software. Sue Hares may not be as well known as Tony Li, but in the routing world people know her and they respect her work."

The company has managed to save $7 million of the $11 million venture money it has raised so far, says CEO Cluss. Last year the company generated revenues in the single-digit millions, and he expects that number to triple this year.

NextHop isn't the only company selling third-party routing software. Companies like IPinfusion, WindRiver, Virata, NetPlane, and FutureSoftware also offer solutions (see NetPlane Opens Up IP Routing).

- Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com
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skeptic 12/4/2012 | 10:36:21 PM
re: NextHop: Fast-Food Routing? They software is pretty solid," says Coneybeer. "I'm sure there are lots of people out there who would love to OEM Juniper's software. Sue Hares may not be as well known as Tony Li, but in the routing world people know her and they respect her work."
----------------------

Gated is junk. Without massive
amounts of rework, it just doesn't meet the
requirements for quality. Juniper might have
"started" with gated, but what they finished
with certainly isn't in terms of quality.

And the history presented of what happened
with gated is very flawed. It started out
as a nice bunch of free software. Then it
was hijacked by a bunch of people at MERIT
who didn't give a damn about anything other
than extracting the maximum amount of money
and free work from everyone they dealt with.


Anyone who thinks they can build a router
without a routing team is asking for a disaster.

Anyone who has worked with gated and tried to
use it for real-world applications knows what
sort of "work" went into it. Nobody in their
right mind would trust those people.
bitnews 12/4/2012 | 10:36:21 PM
re: NextHop: Fast-Food Routing? Gated isnt a IP stack its a protocol stack.
hiddentiger 12/4/2012 | 10:36:21 PM
re: NextHop: Fast-Food Routing? another IP routing stack.
HT
skeptic 12/4/2012 | 10:36:20 PM
re: NextHop: Fast-Food Routing? sue hares could be the linus torvalds of routing and this could be the red hat opportunity, but sustainable. i wouldn't overlook this trend if i were a router company or a carrier.
-----------------------

No, zebra was set to be the linux of routing.
Until they decided to form IP infusion instead.

If I were a router company or a carrier, the
word "gated" would mostly raise doubts and
fears.

Nexthop is telling the same story that MERIT
did. And while I dont have personal knowledge
of the state of gated today, unless they have
dramatically changed almost everything about
it, its still junk.


cruiser 12/4/2012 | 10:36:20 PM
re: NextHop: Fast-Food Routing? ok maybe it's not nexthop that hits this market but someone will. aren't carriers tired of the "windows and unix's of routing?" right now you basically have a microsoft lookalike in cisco with ios, then a sun lookalike with juniper. sue hares could be the linus torvalds of routing and this could be the red hat opportunity, but sustainable. i wouldn't overlook this trend if i were a router company or a carrier.
DoTheMath 12/4/2012 | 10:36:19 PM
re: NextHop: Fast-Food Routing?
Tony Li's hits the nail on the head. The networking/telecom industry still views software either a) too strategic to buy from third parties (Cisco, Juniper etc) or b) as a "freebie add-on" used to sell hardware (many smaller vendors). So a software company either doesn't get in the door at all or if it does, doesn't make money!

Yet, looking at the duplication of work in the industry, it is obvious that separation between the systems and software layer is essential to long term productivity growth in the industry. It looks like semiconductors are ahead of the curve here, and merchant silicon vendors are slowly gaining traction. History shows that where semiconductor leads, software follows.
ipfan 12/4/2012 | 10:36:19 PM
re: NextHop: Fast-Food Routing? Nortel tried this with their "Open IP", I think. Useless. They claimed through Open IP, Nortel would lead the world in "New World Routing".

Ouch!
rjmcmahon 12/4/2012 | 10:36:18 PM
re: NextHop: Fast-Food Routing? do you think i would trust
a router vendor that is
using somebody else's
routing protocol software?
_____________

If the product is market tested everybody will benefit. NASA coined the term Commerical Off The Shelf (COTS) when using commercial markets to reduce testing costs of software.

You don't need to know who wrote the source code. You just need to know somebody can fix it. Kinda like your automobile.
dre 12/4/2012 | 10:36:18 PM
re: NextHop: Fast-Food Routing?
i don't trust most of my
current router vendors.

do you think i would trust
a router vendor that is
using somebody else's
routing protocol software?
would i be likely to use
them instead of my already
horrible choice of current
router vendors?

i'm not going to. i would
hope that others won't either.
if you have any knowledge
about purchasing routers for
edge or core or sitting on the
floor, then you know what "life
of a packet" and latency and
packet loss and feature support
is. you are not going to get
this with `gated'. even if you
format the man pages into nice
sgml and hire a professional
services organization.

having a company that knows the
source code to routing protocols
and sells their expertise to other
companies might be a good idea. it
seems this is sort of what they are
trying to do, but the marketing is
all wrong. another good idea would
be a programming language that relates
to organized and good practice in
regards to routing protocols, documentation
of algorithms used in routing protocols,
etc etc. your C source code isn't anything
new or exciting, this stuff has been around
for a long time. you can download older
iterations of gated on the internet, and
zebra is also freely available. there are
a few books and even a lot more publications
that cover this stuff fairly in-depth. most
router vendors have considered all of this
in the hiring process, and if they haven't -
they then are already likely to fail.

rjmcmahon 12/4/2012 | 10:36:18 PM
re: NextHop: Fast-Food Routing? So a software company either doesn't get in the door at all or if it does, doesn't make money!
_______________

Such a company needs both a consulting industry to add custom value and it requires network owners to support open access.

Incumbant network owners with their closed networks, excessive payrolls, and unskilled labor force, will never enable such a company nor the consulting or "service" industry.

Democratic fiber being installed would fix this problem.
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