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The Coolest Router on Earth?

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
7/30/2001

The science reportedly once used to put willing participants into suspended animation may be linked to the future of broadband routers.

Irvine Sensors Corp. (Nasdaq: IRSN; Boston: ISC) has announced preliminary funding of $55 million for a high-speed router spinoff that will use superconducting technology -- a technique that, like cryogenics, involves freezing.

But in Irvine Sensors' case, what's being frozen are ceramics, not Walt Disney. The solid materials are cooled at extremely low temperatures, eliminating their electrical resistance. The result is a conductor capable of shunting digital signals over telecom links an order of magnitude faster than today's high-end routers. Experimental labs have managed to get superconductors to transmit digital data at rates to 740 Gbit/s.

Superconducting isn't just fast, it's smart. Since it works with electrical signals, it can be used to scrutinize packets at incredibly high rates. That means it's ideal for use in telecom switching, routing, and provisioning.

Irvine Sensors isn't alone in its quest for a new router technology. Atlantic Technology Ventures Inc. (ATLC) has started its own superconducting router project. Chipmaker HYPRES Inc. is working on the concept (see Out of the Lab: Really Cool Chips). And superconductor vendors such as ISCO International say it's in their future plans.

One question: Isn't it pointless to focus on such futuristic technology when existing firms are struggling? And where does superconducting leave optical networking -- out in the cold?

Irvine Sensors insists it's not too soon to start talking about the next generation of routers -- ones that will handle Internet bottlenecks two to three years from now. "If we don't do this now, we won't be ready when it's needed," says Irvine Sensors spokeswoman Lynn O'Mara. "We have ongoing communication with the leading router vendors, and this is what they say they're going to require."

Because it allows scrutiny of packets at high speeds, superconductor research has been backed by government agencies intent on creating high-speed digital surveillance gear.

Indeed, Irvine Sensors has worked this situation to its advantage. Its business plan calls for the development of a "SuperRouter," using funds obtained from U.S. government agencies under the auspices of the Small Business Innovation Research Program. One of the contributors: the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. In order to peddle the product commercially, Irvine has formed a spinoff called iNetWorks Corp.

iNetWorks has just one employee today -- CEO Mel R. Brashears, a former COO of Lockheed Martin. When the SuperRouter is ready (the company says a prototype won't be available until sometime next year at the earliest), he'll license the technology developed by Irvine Sensors and create a company to market, support, and further develop the product.

To spin off iNetWorks, Irvine Sensors has enlisted the help of an independent investment firm, which shall remain nameless until the company files its proxy statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sometime in August. That firm has set up terms to create more shares of Irvine Sensors stock in order to generate $55 million in capital to launch the startup.

Irvine Sensors used a similar tack of working with government to create Novalog Inc., a startup with infrared subsystems for wireless communications, and RedHawk Vision Inc., a company with a proprietary enhanced video framing format that's been adopted by the likes of Adobe Systems Inc. and Apple Computer.

These spinoffs follow Irvine Sensors' pattern of obtaining grants as a small business, developing technology with government funds, then creating subsidiaries for the commercialization of new products based on the innovation. So far, it's a strategy that's worked: Currently, the company generates about 40 percent of its revenues from technologies developed originally with government funding.

Irvine Sensors says it's using some superconductor technology from TRW, which also offers high-end commercial superconductor coolers for spacecraft. The SuperRouter is being designed to support a 512x512 switching matrix, with each port achieving throughput of 40 Gbit/s, Irvine Sensors says. And it will be smart, capable of packing the "equivalent of eight 'state-of-the-art,' seven-feet-high router bays into a single bay" and offering "100 times the throughput of what is available today."

There are plenty of potential pitfalls in the plan. For one thing, the kinks are definitely not worked out of superconductor technology. Take the case of TeraComm Inc. (no Website), a company with a plan for fiber optic transceivers based on superconductors. Originally seeded by ATLC, TeraComm is now pursuing other investors because ATLC refuses to give it more money until "certain milestones are met."

It's also not clear whether having one simple piece of the router puzzle -- superconductiing components -- will enable a new breed of router. Routers also require a large amount of software work and compatibility with other networking gear.

Irvine Sensor officials acknowledge that plans for an avant garde are fraught with risk. The company admits that at least two of its ventures aren't showing any products yet.

- Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com

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drone387
drone387
12/4/2012 | 8:01:09 PM
re: The Coolest Router on Earth?
The previous "killer app" for superconductors was wireless. The space, power, and cost for the freezer unit made superconductors dead on arrival with respect to the cellular carriers and basestation equipment vendors. The networking world isn't going to be any better.
skeptic
skeptic
12/4/2012 | 8:01:09 PM
re: The Coolest Router on Earth?

You know, it would be a good idea if these
people would work on solving one problem with
superconductors rather than several at the
same time.

They talk about switches and packet processors
both implemented with superconducting materials.
Both are independently enormous technical
challenges. But together, it strains credibility
that a vendor is just going to throw it all
together at the same time. Plus invent all
the environmental infrastructure to put
superconductor devices into (pratical) customer
sites.

And on top of that, build a from-scratch
multi-terabit router (software and all).

However much money the raise, its not going
to be near enough to go after the problems they
want to solve.

Whoever is putting money into this is being
very foolish.
noptera01
noptera01
12/4/2012 | 8:01:08 PM
re: The Coolest Router on Earth?
In addition, your description of the financing, the spin-off of an entity with one employee, the investment intermediary "that shall remain anonymous" is just a little too much San Francisco/Valley pseudo-hype.

I think we're all a little too jaded to take this seriously.

cfaller
cfaller
12/4/2012 | 8:01:03 PM
re: The Coolest Router on Earth?
While I agree with everyone that's posted so far about the viability of this solution, I would urge everyone to temper their cynicism. In today's marketplace, someone is daring to take a leap of faith on a bleeding edge technology.

I once read that what makes the US different from the rest of the world (yawn) is that we are willing to fail, and we foster an environment that is friendly to risky and sometimes rewarding ventures.

Food for thought...
gardner
gardner
12/4/2012 | 8:01:00 PM
re: The Coolest Router on Earth?
While I agree with everyone that's posted so far about the viability of this solution, I would urge everyone to temper their cynicism.

What you call cynicism is actually just healthy skepticism. After 5-10 years of hype leading to utter failure of a lot of companies, drowning a lot of good technical people I can only hope that the market shows more healthy skepticism not less.

In today's marketplace, someone is daring to take a leap of faith on a bleeding edge technology.

Been there done that. Too much blood on the bleeding edge. Back when it was unique to be on the bleeding edge your argument might have held water but now, after a decade of blood loss on that edge I have to wonder if the bleeding edge hasn't lost some of its charm. Everyone seemed to be promising much more than they could reasonably deliver. This smells like all the other hype-over-substance bullshit that has been foisted on the telecom/data market over the last 10 years.

I once read that what makes the US different from the rest of the world(yawn) is that we are willing to fail, and we foster an environment that is friendly to risky and sometimes rewarding ventures.

So flying by the seat of our pants directly into a mountain is a patriotic act right? ;-)

Food for thought...

Food for fish. ;-)
russ4br
russ4br
12/4/2012 | 8:00:58 PM
re: The Coolest Router on Earth?
Whoever is putting money into this is being
very foolish.


The US government as the ultimate VC?
=> Far sighted and willing to take risks, regardless of economic conditions or market downturns. The Arpanet/BBN-related technologies took more than a couple of years to start generating any ROI.
oxc
oxc
12/4/2012 | 8:00:57 PM
re: The Coolest Router on Earth?
The entreprenuerial spirit you knock is the basis of United States technology leadership, where risk taker meets uncle sam as the largest source of funding anywhere in the world.

In this case, ROI goes deep several vertical markets where cryogeneitcs improvements can be applied. Furthermore, the fact that the US governement gains access to 700G-BIT router technology for defense purpose is worthwhile expense given the ROI business of US DEFENSES.




skeptic
skeptic
12/4/2012 | 8:00:55 PM
re: The Coolest Router on Earth?
In this case, ROI goes deep several vertical markets where cryogeneitcs improvements can be applied. Furthermore, the fact that the US governement gains access to 700G-BIT router technology for defense purpose is worthwhile expense given the ROI business of US DEFENSES.
---------------------------------

It would be better for everyone if they focused
on what they know best (cryogenics) and put
their effort into getting a switch working.
Rather than what they intend to do (build a
router). When the switch technology is proven,
its time to fund a router company on that switch.
Not before.






tony1athome
tony1athome
12/4/2012 | 8:00:55 PM
re: The Coolest Router on Earth?
The entreprenuerial spirit you knock is the basis of United States technology leadership, where risk
taker meets uncle sam as the largest source of funding anywhere in the world.
=================================================


Leaping off of a cliff and claiming that you won't
get hurt is not the entreprenuerial spirit. That's insanity. A man's got to know his limitations.

Claiming to ship a high end router in one year is not something that I can take seriously.

Tony
noptera01
noptera01
12/4/2012 | 8:00:54 PM
re: The Coolest Router on Earth?
... Furthermore, the fact that the US governement gains access to 700G-BIT router technology for defense purpose is worthwhile expense given the ROI business of US DEFENSES ...

This makes no sense whatsoever. First, routing IP packets at this speed is not critical to national security (if it was, why isn't the network connection-oriented?). Secondly, a series of load balanced Juniper routers can achieve the same thing and a lot cheaper too.

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