By Bob Hafner, Gartner Analyst
The apparent bankruptcy of IronBridge Networks demonstrates the cutthroat nature of the high-end router market dominated by Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks.
The main question facing this market segment is the number of core routers
that service providers will need. Although long-term demand for high-speed
routers will be significant, the market remains at an early stage. (The
economic slowdown suggests that the market will not grow as fast as analysts
previously forecast.) Optical wavelength switching has the potential to
reduce the amount of routing that needs to be done. Technologies such as
MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) handle traffic at the edges of the
network rather than the core--and the network has many more edges than
With this change in outlook, start-ups such as IronBridge face many
significant hurdles. A high-speed core router is difficult to get into a
salable form, in part because it requires unusually specialized and
expensive R&D efforts. Having products that support high-speed interfaces,
such as OC-192 (about 10gbps), is a requirement for market entry that
IronBridge had not yet incorporated.
Finally, IronBridge was also slow to get its product to market--its router
was still in beta testing with two clients--and the two vendors that got
there first, Juniper and Cisco, established a firm hold on the market.
For now, few serious challenges will likely occur to Cisco's and Juniper's
dominance. Such challenges could only come from two directions. On the one
hand, large established players such as Nortel Networks and Alcatel have the
resources to back high-end router development but have decided that better
opportunities for growth lie elsewhere, likely on the network's edge.
For this reason, Gartner believes, Alcatel did not step in to continue
IronBridge's funding and Nortel has stepped away from Avici Systems. On the
other hand, the harsher financial and economic climate means that start-ups
such as Avici, IronBridge and Pluris cannot readily get funding from
established players or venture capitalists.
These factors have left Cisco and Juniper in possession of the field.
Despite some nibbling at the edges by secondary players in this market,
customers have reached a level of comfort with them that other vendors will
find hard to match. Cisco and Juniper have adequate, proven products that
will likely fill the needs of the moderate number of service providers now
looking for high-speed routers.
(For related commentary and tips for designing a wide-area network, see
TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)
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