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Sorrento: Hot Product or Hot Air?

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
5/4/2000

Yesterday Sorrento Networks, Inc. http://www.sorrentonet.com announced TeraMatrix, an all-optical wavelength switching router for metro networks.

At first glance the Teramatrix smells like more vapor-ware to go along with the company's equally ambitious 64 channel Gigamux DWDM developments, announced last week. (see Sorrento Puffs Itself Up For An IPO).

However, that doesn't really stack up with other news coming out of the company -- that it's hired a lot of staff and got some serious financial backing.

What makes us wonder whether Teramatrix is anything more than a Powerpoint presentation?

For a kickoff, Sorrento won't provide details of what it's planning. All it will say is that the switch will scale from 4 x 4 to 512 x 512 ports, and that each port would connect to a fiber than could handle as many as 64 wavelengths.

Building an all-optical switch that could handle more than 30,000 wavelengths (512 fibers times 64 wavelengths) is a challenging task, to put things lightly. Nobody has built an all-optical switch of anything like that capacity.

To make matters worse, Sorrento is vague about how it would build such a switch. It talks about using a combination of thermo-optical and MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) technology. The chances are that it's banking on buying this as a subsystem from another vendor, and is doing what other optical switch developers are doing - waiting to see which technology will end up winning the hearts and minds of carriers before making a decision. Right now, all of these switching fabric technologies are at an early stage in development.

We're also suspicious about Sorrento's biggest claim - that the TeraMatrix will use the "Multiprotocol Lambda Switching Protocol" - a signaling system that will set up and tear down wavelengths on demand.. The truth is that this technology is also at an early stage of development. It's no where close to being standardized yet.

Moreover, implementing this future standard in software that will automate wavelength provisioning in carrier backbones, as Sorrento plans, is no trivial task. Outfits like Sycamore Networks Inc. http://www.sycamore.com, Nortel Networks Inc. http://www.nortel.com, and Cisco Systems Inc. http://www.cisco.com are pouring huge resources into doing this, but there are big, big issues concerning scalability and reliability that even these outfits are having trouble grappling with. It stretches belief that a startup like Sorrento could tackle this mammoth task.

These doubts over Sorrento's ability to execute its plans have to be set against evidence that suggests the company is serious.

For a start, Sorrento has convinced a lot of high caliber engineers to join them. Sorrento says it's boosted its employee count from 60 to over 200 in the last few months, stealing engineers and marketing blood from companies like Lucent Technologies Inc. http://www.lucent.com, Nokia http://www.nokia.com, Nortel, Fijitsu http://www.fujitsu.com, ATT http://www.att.com, Newbridge Networks http://www.newbridge.com and others.

"They have a lot of good people working for them," says Scott Clavenna, principal analyst at Pioneer Consulting http://www.pioneerconsulting.com. "They've hired some top engineers and they're really trying to raise their profile by pushing the technology envelope."

Another good sign is that the company has recently gotten significant backing from serious investors. Back in March, United-Pan European Communications http://www.upc.com, a European broadband provider, invested $16.5 million. Then the company secured almost another $30 million from a venture fund started by Rajender Singh, one of the founders of Teligent http://www.teligent.com, a CLEC that provides last mile access using broadband access.

Sorrento says it will be showing the Teramatrix at SuperComm in Atlanta in June and that it will ship in early 2001.

by Marguerite Reardon, senior editor, Light Reading

http://www.lightreading.com

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