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Optical/IP

Procket Gets Unstealthy

After four years in stealth mode and $272 million in funding, Procket Networks Inc. is finally ready to talk.

With big names like routing guru Tony Li and former Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) executive Bill Lynch on board, there has been much speculation about the company. Some said it was building a huge core router to take on Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) (see Procket's Strategy Taking Shape). Others said it was building an edge router (see Is Procket Heading Toward the Edge?).

The company is actually doing both. Each of the three boxes in the PRO/8800 series has the capability of being either an edge router or a core router, depending on what software is loaded onto it.

“The power of the product is that the same DNA is used across the whole portfolio of products,” says Randall Kruep, CEO of the company.

He claims the main differentiators lie in the company’s unique approach to developing its software and hardware.

Having helped develop routing software at Cisco and Juniper, Tony Li, Procket’s main software architect, avoided some of the problems that currently limit those routing codes today, according to Kruep. For one, Procket avoided off-the-shelf software code, such as Gate D or BSD. Instead, Li and his team developed source code from scratch. As a result, the company was able to put each routing function, including individual routing protocols, onto its own processes.

The modular software code offers many advantages, says Kruep. It provides carriers flexibility in terms of which features to add and when. And it allows them to troubleshoot software bugs more easily. It also ensures an easier and stabler environment for loading software upgrades.

According to Network Strategy Partners LLC, in-service software upgrades account for 22 percent of network downtime per year. This is because most routers -- namely Cisco’s -- run monolithic software code, which means every function runs on the same process. Whenever an upgrade or patch is needed, the entire IOS routing code is reloaded onto the router, which often causes other parts of the software to fail.

“Upgrading a Cisco router is like trying to fix the engine of a jet while it's still flying,” says Dorian Kim, director of IP engineering and network development for the global IP business unit of NTT/Verio Inc. Kim and his team have been testing Procket’s software for almost two years. Verio is still evaluating the Procket gear, says Kim, but because it likes to dual-source vendors, it has already deployed Juniper T640 routers in its core (see Juniper Goes Terabit With the T640).

Juniper’s software, Junos, is semi-modular in design, but Procket contends it didn’t modularize far enough. While it has separated some of the routing functions onto different processes, it still has bundled individual routing protocols together.

Another major software difference is that the Procket code is completely portable, meaning it can be loaded onto other IP devices. The company already has plans to port the code to strategic partners. This is a completely different strategy from that pursued by Cisco and Juniper, which do not share code with anyone. What’s more, Procket's software is self-monitored and can fix minor problems without bringing down an entire device.

The company has also taken an innovative approach to developing hardware. Instead of burning the routing functionality and features into ASICs, the company has leveraged Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) microprocessor technology to build high-speed packet processors. Unlike the older generation of network processors, VLSI microprocessors are highly integrated, allowing for packet processing speeds up to 40 Gbit/s on 40-byte packets.

Procket attributes this performance gain to the fabrication process used in developing VLSI chips. It allows more transistors and memory onto chips than is possible with current ASIC designs.

Because VLSI microprocessors are completely programmable, adding new features can be done much more quickly. The current ASIC development cycle is about 18 months. VLSIs can be programmed within days or weeks.

Procket’s platform comes in three sizes. The single-slot PRO/8801 router is shipping now. It offers 80 Gbit/s of total capacity and can support up to 40 high-speed interfaces in an eighth of a seven-foot telco rack; it starts at $65,000 for a base system. The 12-slot PRO/8812 routers will ship in the second quarter of 2003. It features 960 Gbit/s of total capacity and can forward 1.2 billion packets per second; it's priced at $237,000 for a base configuration. The four-slot PRO/8804 will be available later this year. All PRO/8000 Series routers support a wide range of interfaces, including OC3c, OC12c, OC48c, OC192c, Gigabit Ethernet, and 10-Gigabit Ethernet.

So far, Procket has been getting traction with customers. Kruep claims the company is in trials with 20 carriers throughout the world, and it names three customers: NTTPC Communications Inc., NTT/Verio, and PacketExchange. But some experts are skeptical that carriers will really bite on the company’s claim that it can lower capital and operational costs by 65 percent.

“The techie in me loves what they are doing,” says Dave Passmore, research director at the Burton Group. “But when I put on my business hat, I’m concerned whether their differentiators will really matter enough for service providers to migrate away from the Ciscos and Junipers of the world.”

Indeed, it won’t be an easy road for Procket, taking on the two Goliaths of the IP routing business. The core router market, which Procket will target first, is relatively small. In 2002, core IP routers generated $1.4 billion in revenue, according to Dell'Oro Group, the market research firm. That’s only about 2.9 percent of the entire worldwide carrier capital expenditure for 2002. Compare this to spending on optical and Sonet gear, which made up 30 to 40 percent of total capex. Even during the Internet boom, IP routing gear only generated $2.7 billion in 2001.

Other startups -- like Pluris and Ironbridge Networks -- that have tried to take on Juniper and Cisco have failed miserably. Even public players have found little success against them. Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) have all cancelled their core routing products. And Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7) have gained little marketshare over the past several quarters.

Coincidentally or not, another core router player, Caspian Networks, is also coming out of stealth mode today (more on that later).

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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multithreaded 12/5/2012 | 12:16:04 AM
re: Procket Gets Unstealthy I am really curious about this so called VLSI microprocessor. It is said that it is different from the OLD generation of network processors. Does this indicate that it is a new generation of NPU?

At least it proves that the NPU approach works :-)

The new generation of NPU will replace more and more ASICs in the core and edge routers.

____________________________________________
The company has also taken an innovative approach to developing hardware. Instead of burning the routing functionality and features into ASICs, the company has leveraged Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) microprocessor technology to build high-speed packet processors. Unlike the older generation of network processors, VLSI microprocessors are highly integrated, allowing for packet processing speeds up to 40 Gbit/s on 40-byte packets.

Belzebutt 12/5/2012 | 12:16:02 AM
re: Procket Gets Unstealthy First, congratulations. I hope I get to play with one of these boxes sometime.

For in service upgrades, what we're making available today is the ability to install a replacement module for one of IS-IS, BGP, OSPF or PIM and then restart that particular process. Today this would be typically used to phase in patches. Yes, this would cause a service interruption, but all other processes would still be alive.


Tony, so you do not offer hitless upgrade for these boxes? Is it possible to use graceful restart to do a complete hitless upgrade, or is that not possible?


About Caspian, their box sounds a lot like Vivace, with their emphasis on flows and QoS.
signmeup 12/5/2012 | 12:16:01 AM
re: Procket Gets Unstealthy [Taken from http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-...]

Highlights of Procket Network's PRO/Silicon technology include:

-- Industry's first 40Gbps network processor
-- Fully programmable network processor - enabling new feature additions
via simple software upgrades, avoiding costly hardware upgrades common
today
-- Industry's first Terabit Switch Engine used in the highest performance,
service-optimized, switch fabric available today
-- Enables systems that scale up as well as down - one chipset supports
high-performance platforms that range from 80Gbps to 960Gbps.
laserbrain 12/5/2012 | 12:16:01 AM
re: Procket Gets Unstealthy I'm a firm believer that the routing infrastructure is in dire need of zero downtime upgrades, whether this alone is enough of a differentiator for Procket remains to be seen. I frankly hope so. In the not-too-distant future we'll be looking at the core with the same reliablity expectations as the class5 switch. We've reached that maturation point.

What I wonder is when they're going to lay off 200 people to the the burn rate to a manageable size. Gotta be burning close to $100mil/year. Even if they close some big deals this year, that maybe extends their life by a couple months. The math just doesn't work.

Congrats Procket, now choose to survive.
tspoon 12/5/2012 | 12:16:00 AM
re: Procket Gets Unstealthy The real joke.

If you went to Caspian's site a week ago, you would have been able to pull down an 11 page PDF on the Apiero Switch. That was the first name, now we have the Apiero Router, nice try Caspian. No customers. feels rather desperate.

Great article on Procket Maggie, go get Caspian, it fraud.
skeptic 12/5/2012 | 12:15:59 AM
re: Procket Gets Unstealthy I'm a firm believer that the routing infrastructure is in dire need of zero downtime upgrades, whether this alone is enough of a differentiator for Procket remains to be seen. I frankly hope so. In the not-too-distant future we'll be looking at the core with the same reliablity expectations as the class5 switch. We've reached that maturation point.
------------------

Based on tony's comments, it doesn't sound
like a zero-downtime upgrade. They could
do it through graceful restart, but some
people (at least in cisco's case) have found
out by now that claims don't sometimes mean
much. (i.e. if you give me graceful restart
and it comes with so many different restrictions
that I can never use it, you've wasted my
time and given me nothing.)

There are multiple companies working on what
I would consider more of a true hitless upgrade
with stateful redundancy. Of course its a
difficult problem and none of the people working
on it have proved that they can do it in anything
beyond a "toy" network.
Marguerite Reardon 12/5/2012 | 12:15:59 AM
re: Procket Gets Unstealthy A story on Caspian will be up on the site soon.
multithreaded 12/5/2012 | 12:15:58 AM
re: Procket Gets Unstealthy Then VLSI is marketing smoke since it is simply an in-house NPU.

Procket needs to search NPU conference proceedings to verify whether their VLIS is an industry's first 40Gbps NPU. I remeber that Clear Speed Inc. has a OC-768 NPU in 2002.

It looks like NPU has a bad reputaion in the networking industry. People adopted the technology but do not want to endorse its name :(
skeptic 12/5/2012 | 12:15:57 AM
re: Procket Gets Unstealthy As far as I understand, the carriers won't qualify
hardware vendors that use Gate D or BSD, or
any other routing code that is "off-the-shelf".
This isn't some unique Procket feature, this is a
requirement set forth by the customers. Any
equipment vendor worth his weight needs to do the
same thing if they want to sell product.
-----------------

No. The real requirement is that the vendor
has stable routing code that works. And that
they have staff in-house to support their
routing code.

Carriers are going to ask where the code
came from. And how the vendor answers usually
is what determines if someone will take a chance
or not. Regardless of the source, you are going
to have to show that your code works. And
no commerical package is good enough to take
without major changes.
walter_100 12/5/2012 | 12:15:57 AM
re: Procket Gets Unstealthy Really??? I thought barring Procket, everybody does/did it!
-------------------------------------------------
As far as I understand, the carriers won't qualify
hardware vendors that use Gate D or BSD, or
any other routing code that is "off-the-shelf".
This isn't some unique Procket feature, this is a
requirement set forth by the customers. Any
equipment vendor worth his weight needs to do the
same thing if they want to sell product.
<<   <   Page 2 / 11   >   >>
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