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Sandburst Boosts Low-End Metro

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
7/26/2004

Chip maker Sandburst Corp. claims that it's creating low-end competition for Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) with the release of a ready-made metro box that is supposedly drawing interest from U.S. systems houses.

Sandburst's system, named Metrobox, was built in conjunction with partner/investor Accton Technology Corp. as a fixed-format equivalent to a Cisco 7603 – that is, a low-end box challenging the metro turf of the 7600 series. Metrobox was formally launched today, but Sandburst has been talking about the project since January (see Sandburst Targets Taiwan).

Should Metrobox take hold with U.S.-based OEMs, it would be a surprise. This kind of ready-made box is typically aimed at Taiwan, where original design manufacturers (ODMs) complete low-cost systems for resale by OEMs.

"We started working with Accton with that assumption in mind, but we're seeing a tremendous amount of design activity domestically," says Dave Larson, Sandburst's director of marketing. "Domestic OEMs are seeing a tremendous amount of demand for Ethernet networks, and they don't have anything with this capability."

Interest in the States is coming not from new companies, but from established Ethernet competitors, Larson says. Sandburst isn't giving up any names, but it's worth noting that the company's chips have been used in enterprise chassis systems from Enterasys Networks Inc. (NYSE: ETS) and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ).

Beyond that, the "usual suspects," including Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) and Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), could certainly be interested, says Ron Westfall, analyst with Current Analysis.

"I think those vendors [will eventually] turn to Sandburst to fill some of the lower-end boxes in their portfolio," he says. He also says he wouldn't be surprised if Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) – an early investor in Sandburst – was looking for a way to use a platform like Metrobox.

The attraction would be that Metrobox provides a head start, allowing more R&D resources to be pointed toward higher-end products. Accton could have produced such a product by itself, but the Sandburst chips add some extra features, especially when it comes to MPLS support.

Westfall expects carriers to take a shine to ideas like Metrobox because they could provide faster access to new features. "When you look at features like Resilient Packet Ring Technology and packet-over-Sonet, the market is simply ready for an off-the-shelf, cost-effective alternative, rather than being heavily reliant on one vendor's ASIC capabilities," Westfall says.

Chip makers gradually have been moving to the model of providing nearly completed systems; in particular, Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) have launched similar projects to provide ODM boxes (see Marvell's Ethernet Switch Kit). Those projects differ from Metrobox in aiming at higher-end chassis and targeting Ethernet specifically, Westfall notes.

All told, Sandburst's Larson thinks Metrobox could eventually draw more revenues from the United States than from Asia.

Sandburst isn't disclosing Metrobox's price, but officials are scattering a few hints. End products based on the box should list for less than half of the $100,000 price tag on the Cisco 7603, Larson says. Likewise, they would cost more than the $20,000 listed for Cisco's 3750, a high-end stackable with fewer capabilities than Metrobox, he says.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading


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