Redback Multiplies By Ten

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Redback Networks Inc. has taken that advice to heart with the announcement of the SMS 10000, the latest in its family of subscriber management platforms.

As its name suggests, the device is ten times bigger than its existing 1000 product (full specs can be accessed via Redback's home page: http://www.redback.com).

In fact, the similarities between the earlier product and the new one run deeper than the name. The 10000 is actually ten 1000 devices rolled into one, and then linked by a new switch fabric.

It’s not a bad idea, given two facts. First, Redback has already had substantial success with its existing SMS platforms. "Redback is dominant in the DSL aggregation market. As a first step, that positions them well to dominate service provisioning also. They've got the footprint," says Tam Dell'Oro, founder of the Dell'Oro Group http://www.delloro.com. Second, service providers are clamoring for more capacity. Redback claims each SMS 10000 can scale to handle 100,000 concurrent subscribers –- enough to outfit it for service in ‘mega-POPs’ as well as POPs (points of presence) and COs (central offices).

However, the strategy is also not without its risks.

As Cisco has discovered -– though not to it’s cost –- simply upgrading existing products by gluing them together or adding faster interfaces is no guarantee that they will actually perform faster. In fact, unless the internal architecture can handle the speeds and feeds it can have the opposite effect – creating a performance bottleneck. Cisco is now addressing this problem – which afflicts practically its entire line of switches and routers -- through in-house development and acquisition (see Cisco Buys Growth, Literally).

Redback claims that’s a non-issue with the 10000 because it contains a 48-gigabit switch fabric. It says it developed the fabric in-house, rather than buying it from an outside source, because products from third-party fabric developers were too far from being ready to ship. “We couldn’t wait that long,” says Larry Blair, vice president of marketing at Redback.

However, right now it refuses to divulge any intimate details about the fabric, so potential customers will have to wait and see if it’s powerful -- or just PowerPoint.

An even bigger unanswered question is how Redback will integrate its SMS line (which is focused on copper connectivity) with products from Siara Systems –- a metro optical provisioning platform startup that it recently bought for $4 billion (see Sonet Goes POP).

The Siara acquisition has the potential to pay off massively for Redback by allowing it to offer service providers a seamless line of integrated service provisioning platforms from the core of the network (using the SMS line) all the way out to the basement of office buildings (using Siara equipment).

Before it can do that, however, it will have to overcome a couple of hurdles.

First, Siara doesn’t have a product yet. Second, Siara’s preliminary marketing strategies positioned its forthcoming product as a God box; capable of just about any network function imaginable. That’s not a good ‘look’ for Redback, which needs to position itself as the leader in IP-oriented service provisioning in order to drive its stock price yet higher.

--by Stephen Saunders, US editor, Light Reading

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