Crescent Fertile for Marconi

Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq: MRCIY; London: MONI) is finally giving details about the reborn router acquired from Crescent Networks.

Marconi made it formal today, introducing the Crescent box as the Marconi Service Router (see Marconi Intros Service Router). The box has already shipped for revenue and undergone some Marconi revisions, says Agnes Imregh, vice president of product marketing.

Defunct Crescent's technology was sold to Marconi late in 2003 for a tiny sum. The Crescent technology was being nurtured in a Lowell, Mass., lab and now sits under the umbrella of Marconi's data networking group in Pittsburgh. (See Marconi Buys Crescent Assets and Marconi Puts Crescent to Work.)

As hinted in Marconi's SEC filings, the Service Router represents a charge into the IP world. "This is really our major entry into Layer 3 and above," Imregh says.

Ironically, the thesis behind the router is that carriers don't need routers at the customer premises any more. That is, Marconi envisions the Service Router sitting in the carrier network connecting to simple switches on the customer site. The idea is to let enterprises ditch the expense and particularly the complexity of customer-premises routers, Imregh says.

That should appeal to carriers, because it puts the routing and services burden on the carrier, making the carrier more than a "commoditized pipe" and helping it turn profits from IP services, Imregh says.

The Marconi Service Router is a 16-slot chassis with an 80-Gbit/s switch fabric. An upgrade to 320 Gbit/s should be announced in six months, she adds. Marconi stuck with Crescent's original focus on virtual routing, with each chassis able to handle 8,000 customers. Marconi also improved on Crescent's VPN capabilities, adding Layer 3 VPN support, for example.

Virtual routing isolates customers' traffic, so that each user thinks he has exclusive access to the router. The idea doesn't carry the same cachet as it did four years ago, but it's still viable. An Infonetics Research Inc. study from December showed half the service providers polled intended to use virtual routing to deliver VPN services -- that's a lower percentage that other technologies such as Layer 2 Martini VPNs but shows the technology is far from dead, says Infonetics analyst Kevin Mitchell.

One extra being added to the Service Router is the Dynamic Services Blade, an open-source experiment. The blade runs Linux software with source code being handed to customers by Marconi. The idea is "to allow service providers to write their own applications and for them and us to recruit partners to host applications on the blades," Imregh says.

An open-source blade could be an interesting experiment. "I've never seen anything like it from a router vendor," Mitchell says.

The idea certainly hasn't caught on in regular data networking -- you don't get to alter Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) or Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) router software this way. But Mitchell notes the approach presents interesting possibilities for VOIP: "Certainly an appeal of VOIP is the open architecture -- adding new features and innovations to whatever the vendor might be offering."

The Service Router doesn't spell doom for Marconi's reseller deals, Imregh contends. On the Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. side, she expects the Service Router to get some "pull" for Huawei's low-end switches and routers; the latter can be an entry point for Marconi to make eventual Service Router sales.

The more sensitive overlap comes with edge router vendor Laurel Networks Inc., recently acquired by ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL). ECI has pledged to keep the Laurel-Marconi relationship alive, and Marconi seems game for that plan. Imregh says Laurel's ST200 -- resold by Marconi under the BXR 5000 name -- will be used where broadband remote access server (B-RAS) functionality, which is absent from the Crescent box, is a requirement.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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