Zuma Integrates the Edge
On Tuesday Zuma Networks, an MRV Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: MRVC) company, will announce its Linux-based LightReef product line, an edge networking device that incorporates security and IP services features.
The company has positioned itself among switching companies like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Riverstone Networks (Nasdaq: RSTN), Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), and Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), as well as companies focusing on subscriber management and service provisioning like CoSine Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: COSN) and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) (through its Shasta 5000), along with a slew of other startups like Celox Networks, net.com (NYSE: NWK), and Quarry Technologies Inc.. Zuma's product functions as a Layer 2 through Layer 4 switch/router that also incorporates IP services and security features such as firewalling and virtual private networking.
Integrating application-level switching with security service provisioning is an ongoing trend, says Ron Westfall an analyst with Current Analysis. Nortel has already been talking about integrating its Shasta 5000 service creation platform with its Alteon Web switch, he adds.
“There’s an ongoing effort to integrate application-aware switching and subscriber management service switching,” he says. “I think that Zuma is hitting on an area of convergence within the industry, however I have to see more of their story to see how they differ from other companies.”
The company sees its open Linux operating system as its big differentiator against others working in a similar direction. Linux will supposedly allow service providers to write new applications directly to the platform and develop new services, says the company. But some analysts like Westfall don’t see this as a big selling point.
“No one is against open systems,” he says. “It’s fine if they are just going after the Linux aficionados, but it’s not clear to me how much of a zinger it would be to carriers who are already using their own billing systems that aren’t Linux based.”
It’s no surprise that Zuma has used Linux for the basis of its platform, considering its background. The company originally began as part of NBase-Xyplex, another MRV startup, which had been developing a Linux-based core router to compete with Cisco and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) (see Router Vendors Look To Linux ). Although NBase still exists as a company, its technology has been scattered throughout different MRV companies like Optical Access Inc. and Zuma, says Russell Hertzberg, vice president of marketing for Zuma.
Although the company may play up its open programming environment and mix of service creation and fast switching, it still falls short in a few key areas. For example, in its first release, LightReef won’t support multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and border gateway protocol (BGP-4) routing code. Other edge-switch routing companies like Riverstone, Extreme, Cisco, Foundry, and Unisphere Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: UNSP) already offer BGP-4 in their devices. And it is viewed in the industry as a necessary element for routing.
“It’s a concern,” says Westfall. “Most of the edge-switch vendors out there are already implementing BGP-4. It makes it harder for Zuma to position itself against these other players if it doesn’t have it, too.”
MPLS has also become a necessary buzz-word that needs to be included on a marketing data sheet. Cisco and CoSine have already made it a part of their products, and customers are starting to roll it out. Also other switch/router vendors like Riverstone and Extreme are rolling out or at least announcing MPLS plans.
Hertzberg says these features are on the roadmap for future releases, but he wouldn’t specify when they would be available.
Another potential problem is that the LightReef products are not Network Equipment Building Systems (NEBS) compliant, which could hurt the company’s plans to target incumbent service providers. But Hertzberg argues that Zuma can still target large carriers even without being NEBS compliant. In support, he says that the company is currently testing its product with NTT Corp., the big Japanese telco.
“Not every service provider deploys equipment in a central office,” he says. “So you don’t necessarily have to be NEBS compliant. We aren’t the first company to release a product that isn’t compliant and then re-do it. And we won’t be the last either.”
Although analysts agree that NEBS is not necessary to sell into carrier networks, it doesn’t hurt. "This is like the MPLS and BGP-4 issue,” says Westfall. "I think it will at least cause them some sales and marketing headaches. I’m sure their competitors will use that against them.”
The LightReef products will be demonstrated at Networld + Interop in Las Vegas next week and will be shipping in the third quarter of 2001.
-- Marguerite Reardon, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com