Timetra Trumpets Its Edge Router
Timetra Networks thinks so. The company has been toiling in stealth since being founded in early 2000, but it recently dropped a few hints to Light Reading about what it's doing (hmmm, let's see, might it be... looking for funding?).
There are now about 30-plus companies with products in this space (see Taking Routing to the Edge). So what's the differentiator? According to Timetra, it's about delivering more services features with a new chip architecture -- one that uses programmable network processors in array to handle both IP routing and service-creation features.
Timetra President and CEO Basil Alwan calls this approach the "service edge router" that will take advantage of what he sees as a "deeper split" between core routing and edge routing. "The edge routers and core routers will further diverge," says Alwan.
What does he define as a "service edge router"? Its features include such things as MPLS, QOS (quality of service), broadband aggregation, Ethernet virtual private networks (VPNs), accounting and billing software, service diagnostics, and management. Oh, and plain old IP routing, too, of course.
This makes sense, considering there is mounting evidence that so-called service-creation boxes -- which aggregate and deploy services such as VPNs -- and edge routers are moving together anyway. At Supercomm last week, it became clear that providers of services boxes were aiming to put more routing features into their own products, while many of the edge-routing players were adding service-creation features (see Edge Routing Gets Service Friendly ).
The services players include such companies as CoSine Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: COSN), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) (through the SpringTide acquisition), Network Equipment Technologies Inc. (net.com) (NYSE: NWK), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) (through the Shasta acquisition).
The edge-router market is crowded with many players, including such large companies as Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), Redback Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RBAK), and Unisphere Networks Inc. (see Juniper Nabs Unisphere for $740M). There's also a handful of startups like Laurel Networks Inc. and Allegro Networks Inc.
Some analysts question Timetra's ability to set itself apart from other startups in the sector.
"The market is pretty saturated, so it’s going to be tough for them, or any startup for that matter, to break in," says Kevin Mitchell, an analyst with Infonetics Research Inc. "Their product is at least a year away, and the market will only get tougher."
It may come down to whether Timetra can leapfrog existing edge routers on density and performance. While the product specifics are still under wraps, Timetra -- unsurprisingly -- claims its box will scale better, offer better density, and deliver higher performance than any other router on the market today.
Alwan says the key is in the array of network processors it uses to process and forward packets. Unlike application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), which are used in many routers, these network processors are programmable.
The concept of using network processors in edge routing is nothing new. Several other vendors -- Alcatel, Allegro, and Celox Networks, to name just a few -- are using some sort of array of network processors in their devices.
In the past, off-the-shelf network processors have been criticized for not being able to perform as well as custom ASICs. But now much of that criticism has died down, says Frank Dzubeck, president and CEO of Communications Network Architects. Theoretically, programmable network processors can achieve the same performance as custom-built ASICs. And because they are developed on merchant silicon, they result in commercial products more quickly than do the custom-built ASICs.
The downside is that high-performance network processors at speeds of 10 Gbit/s and higher are still very expensive and will be for at least a year, says Dzubeck. For this reason, edge routers that use ASICs -- like Juniper's, Redback's, and Unisphere's -- could still have a leg up on startups using network-processor designs.
Both the CTO of Timetra, Mike Noll, and the vice president of hardware design, Ken Kutzler, were part of an early-stage startup called Treseq Inc., which was bought by Nortel in 1999. According to the Timetra Website, Treseq was one of the first companies to develop programmable network processors.
While Timetra may have a lot of expertise in network processor technology, it seems to be lacking in routing software expertise. In fact, six of its eight top executives worked in the enterprise switch division of Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) before coming to Timetra. Three of them, including Alwan, had been with Rapid City Communications, a Layer 3 Gigabit Ethernet switch startup that was bought by Bay Networks in 1997 (Nortel bought Bay Networks in 1998). None of them seems to have much experience with routing targeted at service providers.
Alwan says Timetra has built its BGP (border-gateway protocol) code from scratch and gotten other routing protocols off the shelf from third-party providers. He also says the company’s routing code is already testing in some large carrier backbones, although he wouldn’t say where.
Since it began in 2000, the company has raised a total of $50 million from three investors: Accel Partners, Redpoint Ventures, and a large "strategic partner," a public company that Timetra is not disclosing. Some wonder if Nortel may be bankrolling Timetra, considering that so much of the management is from there.
"Well, that would be a guess," says Alwan. "But we also have a few folks from Cisco and Extreme Networks here."
— R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, and Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading