Serial entrepreneur strikes again with Mangrove

* An interview with Mangrove Systems CEO Jonathan Reeves

Not satisfied with starting up and selling off two earlier carrier equipment companies for a combined $4 billion, Jonathan Reeves is back for thirds.

Reeves, who sold Sahara to Cascade in 1997 for $212 million and Sirocco to Sycamore in 2000 for $3.8 billion-plus, marks his return to the start-up game with a company called Mangrove Systems. The outfit is concentrating on the next generation SONET/SDH equipment market.

"I like to be there when something new is happening," says Reeves, Mangrove's CEO and co-founder. "For years, SONET was declared dead as an industry but next generation SONET really changes the game."

The company recently attracted $20 million in first-round funding from Bessemer Venture Partners, Columbia Capital, Highland Capital Partners and Silicon Valley Bank Investments.

Launched in mid-2002, Mangrove is early on in its development. The company, named after a tropical tree whose complex root system Reeves says is symbolic of how networking is evolving, is building switches for carrier metro networks and complementary multiplexers for enterprise nets.

Among the technology being used by Mangrove is intellectual property snapped up from Gotham Networks, a multiservice edge switch company that shut its doors last year and that Reeves says had been doing advanced network processor work.  A number of Gotham employees are among Mangrove's workforce, now at 28 people.

Mangrove's products, Reeves says, are intended to exploit what he anticipates will be a big move by carriers to a next generation SONET/SDH system that can more efficiently handle different traffic types, such as Ethernet and storage-area networks. Reeves says he is already seeing an uptick in carrier requests for information related to next generation SONET.

Among the key technologies making up next generation SONET is generic framing procedure (GFP), which standardizes the way various data protocols are encapsulated in SONET or SDH nets. Reeves refers to Mangrove's main product as "a new class of device called a GFP switch." The switch also takes advantage of other next generation SONET technologies: virtual concatenation, which allows carriers to build pipe sizes arbitrarily to accommodate different traffic types; and link capacity adjustment scheme (LCAS), which allows for dynamic resizing of those pipes.

Reeves says a slew of companies are readying GFP chips that should help move the GFP market along. He says he is not aware of other vendors building GFP switches, but they are readying GFP muxes. He says established carrier equipment companies will likely make GFP cards for their add-drop muxes and cross-connects.

"We foresee a lot of GFP mapping devices at the edge of the network and we think as this evolves there will be an increasing need for switching gear to handle the traffic," Reeves says.

Enterprises could benefit from GFP devices from Mangrove and others, Reeves says, in that they could help enable greater availability of Ethernet and SAN services.

   Sean Dalton, a general partner at Highland Capital in Lexington, Mass., and member of Mangrove's board, says Highland validated Mangrove's business plan with carriers and competing equipment makers.

"Carriers could get a greater level of QoS and more efficient use of their infrastructure, and that could ultimately lead to lower prices for customers," he says.

"The grand problem for carriers has been how to create new revenue without massive investment," Dalton says. "In the past, to get $1 in new revenue, they had to pay $1 in the core and $1 on access."

 Mangrove's technology will enable carriers to upgrade the edge or access portions of their networks without upgrading the core, where there is already plenty of capacity, he says.

Mangrove is looking to get its first products into field trials early next year. The company is targeting all types of carriers, including RBOCs, IXCs and cable companies.

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