No Tomorrow for Chiaro

It looks like curtains for Chiaro Networks Inc. , the core router company that managed to hang on longer than most of its peers.

Two well-placed sources close to Chiaro say the company has effectively shut down, with only a "skeleton crew" remaining to button up its business between now and the end of January. Chiaro officials declined to comment.

A year ago, Chiaro had 125 employees, 90 of them in Texas. Much of the company's Israel-based staff was spun off during the summer to an optics company called Al Cielo Ltd. (See Chiaro Spins Off Optics.)

Having raised $210 million, the eight-year-old Chiaro needed an OEM partner -- or an acquirer -- to ignite its business. Chiaro claimed to be shortlisted by several Tier 1 vendors, but none was ready to trust its network core to a startup. (See Chiaro Lands an $80 Million Round, Chiaro Scores in Tiscali's Core, and Chiaro Seeks Its Footing.)

Chiaro did manage to get a $6 million infusion from ECI Telecom Ltd. in December 2004. ECI, which would later acquire edge-router vendor Laurel Networks Inc. , saw Chiaro as a cheap way to get into the core, and the two managed to land a Tiscali International Network contract together. But Chiaro's future apparently wasn't bright enough for ECI to trigger its option to acquire the company. (See Chiaro Lands ECI Investment and ECI to Buy Laurel for $88M.)

Dror Nahumi, ECI's VP of strategy & business development, declined to comment when Light Reading asked him about Chiaro's status.

One source says ECI is definitely aware of Chiaro's plight. "An ECI team was there interviewing some of the people," the source says. "They will hire some of the technical staff."

Chiaro joins a trail of the dead that includes Charlotte's Web, Hyperchip, Ironbridge, Pluris, and Procket Networks. Many simply vanished. Pieces of Procket were picked up by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), but the technology was shuttered. (See Pluris Shutdown Confirmed and Cisco to Pay $89M for Procket Assets.)

These companies strove to build the next-generation router, leapfrogging anything Cisco or Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) had done. In particular, core-router startups went after scale, building systems that could be combined in multichassis configurations, for example.

It's not a likely career path for startups any more. For one thing, Cisco and Juniper have unveiled the CRS-1 and TX Matrix, respectively, each of which tackles the scale problem. (See Cisco Stumps for CRS-1 and Juniper Unveils the TX.)

Then there's the crippling expense. Judging from the names above, it's going to take at least $250 million for anyone else to start a core-router play, analyst Sam Wilson of JMP Securities wrote in a September 2004 report.

On top of that, the return on investment is years in coming, because large carriers -- the most likely customers for these boxes -- will run any core box through extensive trials before deploying it in substantial numbers. And that's assuming they're even in the market for a core box; core-network upgrades don't exactly come around every day.

Realizing all this, Chiaro built its Enstara router with an eye towards simplifying the network. Telecom vendors tend to buy routers in pairs -- one primary, one backup. Enstara was packed with high-availability features that could eliminate the need for doubling up routers, thus simplifying the network. Chiaro also claimed Enstara could replace the criss-crossing layers of routers that sit at the network core.

Without Chiaro to kick around, who's left standing? Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), which got its IPO done before the downturn hit, is still around but targeting second-tier carriers as well as customers beyond telecom. In June, for example, Avici announced a deal with Limelight Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: LLNW), which operates a network to deliver video and games. (See Avici Storms Supercomm.)

Caspian Networks Inc. likewise learned to think smaller, opting to push its "Flow-Based Networking" concept to the network edge rather than the core. (See Caspian Soaks Up $55M More.)

The good news is, Charo is doing just fine.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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DPD 12/5/2012 | 2:49:27 AM
re: No Tomorrow for Chiaro Before any turds start posting rants critical of Chiaro's product, management, people, etc.:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

From Theodore Roosevelt's Citizenship in a Republic, addressed to the University of Paris (Sorbonne) on 23 April, 1910.
opticalwatcher 12/5/2012 | 2:49:23 AM
re: No Tomorrow for Chiaro "it's going to take at least $250 million for anyone else to start a core-router play"

Actually, it should be a lot cheaper now. Some of the biggest expenses was for the ASIC team and for the hardware (with large cards filled with chips). That made trials very expensive.

You should be able to build a core router with off-the shelf parts (fabric switches, network processors, framers) and the router can be a lot smaller box.

Heck you could probably build an expandable core router in a micro TCA box with the density of the fabric switch chips available today.

The other cost item is the software talent. The off-the-shelf software is of much better quality now days and given the closing of companies like Chiaro, software talent should be available.

The problem is that the market for core routers just isn't very big. In 1999 they were saying that the growth of the internet is exponential and there was unlimited oportunity, so all these core router start-ups were formed to meet the imagined need.

More likely we'll see a need for core-router density on the edge. And we are seeing products like this from companies like Force 10, Foundry, and Extreme, among others.

tsat 12/5/2012 | 2:49:21 AM
re: No Tomorrow for Chiaro
Please show me the off-the-shelf chipset that will support 40G and will scale to terabytes.

Upside_again 12/5/2012 | 2:49:20 AM
re: No Tomorrow for Chiaro Theodore Roosevelt also wrote:

The citizen must have high ideals, and yet he must be able to achieve them in practical fashion. No permanent good comes from aspirations so lofty that they have grown fantastic and have become impossible and indeed undesirable to realize. Let him remember also that the worth of the ideal must be largely determined by the success with which it can in practice be realized.

*** To say that the thriftless, the lazy, the vicious, the incapable, ought to have reward given to those who are far-sighted, capable, and upright, is to say what is not true and cannot be true.
opticalwatcher 12/5/2012 | 2:49:20 AM
re: No Tomorrow for Chiaro "Please show me the off-the-shelf chipset that will support 40G and will scale to terabytes."

Fabric Chips
Dune, Terachip
Network processors:
Xelerated, Bay Micro

There are others. 40G might not quite be there, but if your box works well and is cheap enough you could offer it in your next rev. How many ports of 40G are there in the world? Can you combine 4 10Gs into 40G?

My other point was that the market for this kind of density is much better at the edge and you are not likely to need 40G there.
justapeon 12/5/2012 | 2:49:18 AM
re: No Tomorrow for Chiaro Bzzzt, wrong answer on the 40Gig front...

If you are buying chips to build a product you have 2 mouths to feed (chip mfr + sys OEM). Companies that own their own designs (e.g. Cisco & JNPR) have an inherent cost advantage that a startup would be foolish to ignore.

The 40G ship has sailed with both Cisco & JNPR participating in that sector of the core market space. A startup would need to look beyond 40Gig, particularly given that a development cycle, even with off the shelf chips will be 2+yrs for this caliber of a product.

So what is off the shelf today that does 100GigE? Anybody? Anybody? Beuller?
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 2:49:17 AM
re: No Tomorrow for Chiaro Tera has decent points, about the availability of silicon and even IP software, but I still think the costs would get into the $200M range. To crack the Cisco/Junpier duopoly at the core, you'd need to show something special or unusual, something non-off-the-shelf. Your router would be based on some breakthrough aspect that you'd end up developing yourself, at core-router levels of expense.

Also, to be fair, the $250M estimate includes the time to get the box to market -- i.e., the 2+ years of starvation while first getting in the door, then waiting for carriers to evaluate the box.

Chiaro *did* use commercial chips, if I recall correctly, but they added expenses elsewhere. They developed some of their own optics, including all-optical switching, and lots of software tricks such as routing partitions. And a lot of work on high availability and the like, a big part of the Enstara pitch.

Some of that technology must be useful elsewhere. I wonder if it's landing in the hands of ECI.

.... Now, to deflate my own argument: Maybe the next core-router breakthrough is not in speeds and chips, but in operations. Maybe the box will use merchant chips and stacks, with its specialty being a super-resiliency -- ultra high availability, hot swappable everything, and the ability to recover even better than the best routers. (I have no idea what "better" would mean; I'm making this up as I type.) By my uneducated glance, that does look cheaper than the core-router model of 1999.

Anyway, this is all fun to discuss, but Tera's final point was the best: The core market just ain't that big. Bigger fortunes can be made at the edge.
reoptic 12/5/2012 | 2:49:13 AM
re: No Tomorrow for Chiaro 13 Chiaro 12 Axiowave 11 Ironbridge, 10 Nexabit, 9 Packetstar, 8 Pluris, 7 Argonne, 6 Charlotte's Web, 5 Procket, 4 Optera, 3 Versalar, 2 Alcatel 7770, 1 Hyperchip.

Is there any space in networking where there has been more carnage?

flush_meat 12/5/2012 | 2:49:12 AM
re: No Tomorrow for Chiaro Dror was in Chiaro interviewing people? Hahaha...
Hope he was interviewing only the technical
staff, not the management team. If he was interviewing the management folks, hope he won't
repeat the same mistake he did with Laurel.

In my mind, he should have interviewed the top
management people at Laurel before the buyover.
It is obvious that he didn't do a good job and
so people like Atul and his brother-in-law
are still around. Mr. Dror, do you ever talk to
people to understand Atul's role there? Also, can anyone talk to his brother-in-law and convince him on anything?

Stop by the coffee machine and you will find a S/W director happily sipping his coffee all day long there. You know what? He will promote a person who leaves the company for a business school. Man, think before you act.

If I were that S/W director, I would have laid off this guy who went to business school and paid his salary as bonus to the two great minds working in the corner of the building. It is worth paying each of these two guys a million as a bonus every year.
tigre 12/5/2012 | 2:49:12 AM
re: No Tomorrow for Chiaro you forgot IPoptics and I think there's some others
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