That's the multimillion-dollar question prompted by today's news that Seranoa has scored $15.75 million in new funding. Spokespeople say it's on track to make its product, an IP aggregation device, generally available by year's end (see Seranoa Scores $15.75M).
Seranoa claims to be "developing a new category of networking product, the IP edge concentrator," according to its public statement. The Seranoa Edge Concentrator, it says, sits in front of an edge router, grouping circuits together and replacing expensive WAN aggregation cards that would otherwise take up valuable router real estate.
Seranoa's not saying a lot more than this. "You can make up something, but we're not announcing product details," says VP of marketing Bob Olsen. But even though he won't say what interfaces the concentrator supports, one source familiar with the company says it's shunting IP circuits onto Gigabit Ethernet router ports, a further savings since LAN ports on high-end routers are cheaper than WAN ones.
Hang on: Is this really new?
The concept certainly isn't. "For a number of years, ISPs stuck frame relay switches in front of their routers just as aggregation devices, to save the cost of WAN ports," says David Passmore, research director at Burton Group.
Echoes of similar claims, albeit with different emphases, have been heard for years from makers of IP service switches, VPN gear, and edge routers (see A New Optical Taxonomy). Sadly, some of these are off the map, having added either too much or two little to the equation (see Sedona's Sad Demise).
Still, carriers like the pitch, and vendors soldier on, despite poor market conditions. CoSine Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: COSN), Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), and Quarry Technologies Inc. are in many ways trying to lighten the load of IP routers by handling services in front of them. So has Celox Networks (see Meet Me in Southborough, MA?), whose VP of marketing hails from the same company many of Seranoa's management do -- Net2Net, a network analyzer company sold in 1998 to Visual Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: VNWK).
Can Seranoa stake its claim in a market where so many players already are trying -- and in which some are failing?
There are hints that Seranoa Networks may have gotten an interesting new take on the IP aggregation formula:
- It's based on network processors. Seranoa's working on network processors of its own design. That hints at cutting-edge smarts and scaleability, also being touted by key router makers that using these components (see Network Processors).
- It's got traction. Seranoa has seven beta testers, a solid number, considering the lack of traction that's haunted some other vendors. Six of the testers are service providers, Olsen says, but one is an equipment vendor that may wish to peddle its wares in partnership with the startup. (A router vendor, perhaps?)
- Startup savings claims hint at simplicity. Seranoa's claiming to cut per-subscriber hardware costs by three-quarters for ISPs, compared with what they're spending now for router interface cards. To do that, it will have to stay focused and simple, not trying to do too much.
Management team has experience. The management team has extensive backgrounds in ATM networking and management and analysis of LAN-to-WAN interfaces. This includes CEO Paul Kelley; VP of engineering and founder Phil Wilson; director of hardware engineering Stuart MacEachern; and director of software engineering Ralph Beck. Most of them hail from old datacom market leaders, such as Proteon, CrossComm, Primary Rate, Cabletron, and Racal-Datacom.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading