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Startups look to eliminate routers, switches

Compass-EOS and Fiber Mountain say their SDN products can replace more expensive gear

This week, two startups came out with SDN products they claim can rid networks of routers and core switches. Compass-EOS, ironically a maker of routers using silicon photonics, rolled out a product called SDN Forwarding Plane that the company says replaces routers in service provider networks.

And Fiber Mountain, a company that debuted at this week’s Interop New York exhibition, unveiled a fiber optic connectivity management system based on ToR switches, patch panels and orchestration software that the company says can eliminate core switches.

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Sounds like curtains for Cisco, right? Cisco is an investor in Compass-EOS, so whatever Compass-EOS is doing, Cisco is backing. It’s unclear what connection (pun intended), if any, Cisco may have with Fiber Mountain, whose CEO is M. H. Raza, inventor of Connector Point ID technology for network connectors.

Connector Point-enabled products allow network managers to assign a unique ID, similar to a MAC address and Address Resolution Protocol tables, to network connection points. This allows products to auto-discover equipment, build a map and maintain a database of physical-layer connections.

But if Fiber Mountain is claiming Death to the Core Switch with its new products, you can bet they are on Cisco’s radar – they were right across from each other on the Interop show floor.

Cisco’s likely keeping closer tabs on Compass-EOS. The SDN Forwarding Plane is a network element that takes its instructions from processes in the cloud and details what each flow in the plane is doing on a packet-by-packet basis. Using Compass-EOS’s icPhotonics technology, the SDN Forwarding Plane is less complex and more power efficient than traditional routers at detailing packet flows, the company says.

The SDN Forwarding Plane scales by adding more elements and supports SDN/Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) protocols. The company is involved in the OpenDaylight open source SDN project.

Fiber Mountain developed sophisticated orchestration software to virtualize connectivity and reconfigure physical fiber connections through software. It claims it can bypass core switches by replacing them with optical cross connects that are all software controlled.

This results in what the company calls a “Glass Core” fabric which emulates direct-attached connectivity from any port to any server, storage, switch or router port across the data center. It is designed to alleviate the need to send traffic to expensive, latency-hobbled core switches for further packet processing, and then back again to the server rack.

The challenge with both startups is in convincing network administrators with deep knowledge of Cisco gear to learn to do things a different way, despite the claimed cost savings. In Compass-EOS’s case, it doesn’t hurt that the CEO of the company is telecom veteran Matt Bross, and investors include Comcast and Deutsche Telekom as well as Cisco.

Fiber Mountain is funded by a potential customer in New York and is engaged with a handful of large companies there.

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