Let’s Find a Better Route

Anyone with a good idea risks tipping their hand to the competition if
they talk too loudly. The folks at San Mateo, Calif.-based RouteScience know
that.

Since the launch of its innovative PathControl product in August, RouteScience, once of the first companies to announce its entry into the business of “intelligent
routing,” has been met by an onslaught of new competition. Sockeye
Networks of Newton, Mass., last week become the latest player to throw its
hat into the ring when it unveiled GlobalRoute, a service version of
intelligent routing. Add to that the offerings of Radware, Internap and netVmg, as
well as shrinking IT budgets due to the worst economic conditions in nearly
a decade, and you’ll get a competitive landscape that’s a lot more crowded
than the dog days of summer.

But RouteScience officials are learning to take things in stride. To deal
with the newest New Economy, it announced this week that it is bringing its
intelligent routing product down to more affordable levels and, as such, to
a hopefully larger customer base. It also said it raised $30.5 million in a
second round of venture capital financing.

“The basic question is: isn’t this a much larger market? And we believe
the answer is: yes. It’s actually a bigger opportunity than the initial
early adopters segment of the market here,” said Kurt Kruger, senior
director of marketing at RouteScience.

Whether or not a scaled down version of intelligent routing will take off
is now up to market forces. And, given the new competition, analysts believe
that a shake-out is inevitable. But the mere fact that competition has
increased speaks volumes about the viability of a market segment that was
non-existent at this time last year.

“It’s validating the space,” said Michael Hoch, senior analyst of
Internet Infrastructure for Aberdeen Group.

What’s so intelligent about routing?

“Intelligent routing” is a method of performance enhancement that
re-thinks the traditional Internet routing tables, which currently rely on a
set of rules known as Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to determine the hopping
structure of an outbound Internet signal. Because the protocol doesn’t take
into account past performance, routes aren’t optimized if there is any sign
of gridlock or congestion. Information packets would slam head-on into
traffic.

In contrast, intelligent routing communicates with servers located on the
edge of the Internet using the same BGP rules but overwrites the protocol
any time the hops aren’t optimal. The end result is a more cost-effective
use of bandwidth and predictable Internet performance regardless of the
amount of congestion and delay in the Internet core. The organization, for
example, can then route traffic to the ISP links that actually deliver the
best end-to-end performance depending on the user’s specific needs.

Clearly, the technology is a logical evolution of Internet Protocol (IP)
and further proves that age-old adage — “build a better mousetrap.”
RouteScience first attempted to capitalize on intelligent routing in August
when it announced PathControl — a modular hardware device with 14 slot
chassis and capacity for up to 10 ISP links priced from $140,000 to
$250,000 depending on the configuration. At the time, the company bragged
that PathControl was in field trials with key enterprise customers including
a large Web portal and several major financial services institutions and
will be available for volume shipments in October.

Mine is better than yours

Since then, it delivered on its promises, shipping the high-end version to
high-trafficked, enterprise customers. But competitors are now encroaching
with different product offerings — some, like PathControl, in the form of a
hardware product like netVmg (which stands for “net velocity made good”) but
others in the form of a service like Sockeye.

Sockeye’s main differentiator — or “special sauce” as investors referred
to it during the heady dot-com craze — is
its exclusive deal with neighboring Akamai Technologies Inc. to access its
network of more than 13,000 servers on over 1,000 networks for accessing
data on global Internet traffic conditions. Those connections have helped
the GlobalRoute service deliver 70 percent better performance compared with
BGP routing selections and lowers bandwidth and network management costs by
up to 40 percent for enterprises and service providers that use more than
one connection to the Internet, Sockeye argued.

So does that make Sockeye a the clear-cut winner? Certainly not, Hoch
contended.

“There’s no outright winner yet…it’s too early to say,” the analyst
said.

A strategic alliance with Akamai doesn’t prove Sockeye has the better
technology. But in the same vein, RouteScience’s time-to-market advantage
may not amount to a hill of beans. Still, with the introduction of a
lower-end solution, RouteScience is proving to take a sensible approach to
its business.

“I would think that given the newness of this space, that there is a lot
of experimentation about who is going to buy. Coming out with a lower-priced
product is a way to diversify your sales channel,” Hoch said.

Made for an organization with multiple locations that wants to link
together through the Internet, PathControl 1.1 has an eight-slot chassis and
will be available in January 2002. The company said it has a starting price
of $99,900 for the eight-slot chassis in a two ISP link configuration. One
key difference between the low-end version is its ability to send traffic to
known endpoints at regular intervals — what RouteScience refers to as
“Active Measurement.” In comparison, the higher end version of PathControl
uses “passive measurement” only sending traffic when a end-user requests a
web page.

This gives the low-end version functionality similar to the offerings of
Mercury Interactive. RouteScience officials believe this is the future for
intelligent routing.

“Route control could eventually replacement private networks with
IP-VPNs,” Kruger said.

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