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Redback Unveils Siara Product

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
5/30/2000

Why did Redback Networks Inc. http://www.redback.com fork out $4.3 billion in stock for Siara Systems Inc. last fall? One reason will become apparent today, when Redback announces the SmartEdge 800, a new multi-service provisioning platform developed by the team from Siara.

At first glance, Redback's new box looks much the same as other developments in this field - a small, inexpensive add-drop-mux capable of supporting multiple Sonet rings. A closer look, however, reveals Siara's hidden strength: The SmartEdge 800 has two backplanes - a TDM one for carrying circuit switched traffic such as voice, and a packet switched one for handling IP traffic.

That architecture should provide more advanced and efficient IP features, as well as a smoother migration path from TDM networking to IP networking, analysts think.

“Its data capabilities are impressive. It will support true IP routing. Others won’t,” says Scott Clavenna, principal analyst at Pioneer Consulting LLC, http://www.pioneerconsulting.com.

The design should also keep customers happy, Redback believes. “Old school types who’ve been working at a carrier for twenty years are comfortable with the product, but it also meets the demands of the next-generation folk who want to be on the cutting edge of service provisioning,” says Simon Williams, director of product management at Redback.

“Carriers like a product that they can cost justify for Sonet installations now, but then lets them migrate to packet service later from the same port,” agrees Clavenna. “Redback is better equipped to do that than its competitors,” he adds.

The SmartEdge 800’s twin-engine design sets Redback apart from other new-age metro Sonet solutions, from companies like Cisco Systems Inc. http://www.cisco.com (via its acquisition of Cerent), Mayan Networks Inc. http://www.mayannetworks.com, and Cyras Systems Inc. http://www.cyras.com. At their heart, those vendors’ products are essentially ADMs (albeit small, well-designed ADMs), with some stat mux capabilities added to improve their ability to carry data over Sonet.

It’s worth noting, however, that for now the SmartEdge 800’s futuristic IP capabilities remain just that – futuristic. The product is based on seven high-performance ASICs (another point in its favor). So far, Redback has only completed four of them – the ones that support TDM traffic. The other three, which will enable the devices data capabilities, are still in the works.

A version of the product supporting Sonet TDM is now being beta tested, the vendor says, and is expected to ship in Q3 with some elementary stat mux data capabilities. Redback will not say when the layer 3 packet capabilities will be available.

"The product is not all quite there today. And it's not clear when it will be," says Steve Byars, principal analyst at Current Analysis http://www.currentanalysis.com. However, Byars says he he is "positive" that Redback should deliver the more sophisticated data features "within a few quarters."

Redback’s strongest competition comes from Cisco and Cyras. Together, the three companies share more than a common target market. As noted, Cisco sells a device that was originally developed by Cerent, the outfit it bought for $7 billion. Player number three, Cyras, will make the official announcement of its metro platform today (see Cyras: The Next Cerent? ). All three companies emerged from the ruins of Fiberlane when it broke up last year after in-house fighting.

Each has its own advantages. Cyras has the edge in port density. Redback leads in data capabilities. But Cisco/Cerent has the first mover advantage. In the long run, that may prove far more important than having the best technology. Cisco is reportedly on target to generate $1 billion in revenue from its Cerent platform this year. (Off the record, an executive at one of its competitors acknowledges that number as “absolutely astonishing.”) Every platform that Cisco ships extends its bridgehead into carrier accounts, and reinforces its product’s reputation.

-- Stephen Saunders, US Editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreadingcom

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