A few weeks after signing with Google for route control over the public Web, RouteScience has bolstered its ambitions in the still-embryonic space with its first virtual private network (VPN) customer – Qualcomm.
RouteScience has also set about creating relationships with VPN players NetScreen and CheckPoint, although the partnerships are still in the early stages of development. With the continued existence of WorldCom and AT&T in question, RouteScience wants to capitalize on the acceleration in the transition from frame relay VPNs to Internet Protocol (IP) VPNs.
Route control software is an adjunct to border gateway protocol (BGP), which determines routes across the Internet. BGP makes decisions on routing paths on the basis of router 'hops,' or the number of IP addresses the payload will hit before it reaches its destination, by looking at sets of router tables. Route control software applies policies to routing decisions, taking into account issues like congestion, jitter, packet loss and latency across alternative routes. Increasingly, route control startups are looking at cost-based routing, applying business policies based on Internet service provider (ISP) pricing to routing decisions. Multi-homing, or using multiple service providers, to spread the risk of network stability or differences in levels of services is becoming more common.
The market for the technology is basically divided between route control over the public Web and VPNs. On the VPN side, route control is used for optimizing links between remote offices and headquarters, but its value lies in ensuring network predictability so that applications delivered over the VPN are stable.
RouteScience was founded by a trio of former Cisco executives. The company raised $30.5 million in series B funding in December.
RouteScience has cut the price on its midrange device for two ISP links by a third, to roughly $60,000. The move is aimed at luring in customers that now have multiple ISP links to offset the financial uncertainty at WorldCom and AT&T, and are swapping frame relay VPNs for IP VPNs. RouteScience concedes that the campaign is opportunistic, but wouldn't describe it as ambulance chasing. RouteScience is simply exploiting a shift in the market that presents an opportunity for the route control technology, the company asserts.
For instance, much of the impetus for the shift is that enterprises are more interested in business stability than return on investment, creating the need for software to manage cost and performance. Once enterprises have an insurance policy in place through a contract with a second service provider, attention will turn to the cost of maintaining the link, RouteScience believes.
For the moment, RouteScience believes it has to stay ahead of the other startups in the space – particularly fellow appliance makers Proficient and netVmg – and stake its claim to the route control market. The incumbent vendors, such as Cisco, Nortel and Juniper, and niche players, such as Riverstone, are more likely to stay on the sidelines until there's attrition among the startups in the space before deciding to either make an acquisition or build it in-house. Given the state of the technology market, potential acquirers will prefer to wait and see who is the last man standing, RouteScience contends.
The partnership with NetScreen and the Open Platform for Security (OPSEC) certification from CheckPoint, though largely symbolic, are necessary steps to establish a more significant presence in the market. RouteScience joins a host of other startups and more established players on NetScreen's partnership list. CheckPoint bundles its software with equipment from Nokia Internet Communications. RouteScience also needs to establish a partnership with Cisco to have the VPN space covered. It is interesting to note that Qualcomm's VPN network runs on Cisco equipment.
So far, the route control space has attracted only startups and a single established equipment maker – Radware. Proficient and netVmg compete directly with RouteScience, since they share an appliance business model. While Sockeye, an Akamai spinoff, has a service provider model, and leverages information gathered on Akamai's content delivery network. Opnix has a hybrid software and service provider model.
RouteScience points to its financial resources as an advantage, and now can use the fact that it has both a VPN and a Web site customer as proof it is outpacing competitors. The situation could easily shift. Still, Google and Qualcomm are understood to have investigated all their options in the route control space before going with RouteScience.
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