10 start-ups to watch: Matisse Networks

Location: Mountain View

What will the company offer? An unnamed optical switch with geographically distributed components that operate logically as one unit.

How did the company get its start? Claude Hamou, who had been general manager of cable-modem pioneer Terayon Communication Systems' Data Cable Division, formed the company in January 2002 to address what he felt was an eight-year lack of innovation in network gear.

How did the company get its name? Named for the painter Henri Matisse because, like the French impressionist, founders see themselves as unconventional and viewing networking from a new perspective.

How much funding does the company have? $21 million, in one round closed in September 2003. Backers are Menlo Ventures, Walden International and Woodside Fund.

Who's leading the company? Sam Mathan, formerly CEO of Amber Networks, which Nokia acquired in July 2001 for its fault-tolerant routing technology.

Who might use the product? The company expects to begin beta tests with large corporations in the fourth quarter of this year. It will target organizations that have data centers distributed on campuses or within metropolitan areas.

Why is the company worth watching? Matisse has set itself a tall order with the distributed, multi-protocol optical switch it is developing. Its goal is to increase the bandwidth of campus optical backbones dramatically - to greater than 1T bit/sec - as a way to improve the responsiveness of distributed data centers while simultaneously dropping the cost of doing so.

With the switch still under development, company executives won't say much about how it will work. The bottom line, they say, is that the switch will connect elements of distributed data centers via very-high-bandwidth optical links in a way that is more efficient and less expensive than the alternative of high-speed switch-routers in tandem with dense wave division multiplexing. The switch will use fewer network devices and will be manageable as one entity, cutting monitoring and administrative demands, they say.

Company officials liken the product to a conventional switch whose backplane has been replaced by the optical links that connect sites. So rather than data being switched in one port and out another, it is switched from one site to another. The input and egress ports would be in different buildings, and the switch being able to handle a terabit of traffic across the "backplane," Mathan says.

In addition to the distributed architecture, the Matisse switch will employ technology that increases the available bandwidth on each fiber, company officials say.

The company's big claims might easily be dismissed but for the reputations of Hamou and Mathan, and the backing of credible venture firms.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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