Allegro Networks Details Router Service Plans

Allegro Networks Inc., a stealthy start-up led by former Bay Networks CEO Dave House, has released the first details of the innovative carrier-class routing system it plans to ship next year.

Allegro is developing what it calls a “multirouter system” that will let corporate network managers purchase routing functions as an outsourced service from their carriers. In an interview with Network World (U.S.) last week, Allegro officials outlined a new vision for how companies will buy, operate and deploy routers as IP-based services.

Allegro’s multirouter system is designed to save companies money by not requiring them to purchase or maintain many large routers at the edges of their networks. However, the system gives companies the ability to configure, administer and manage the routers that they lease from their carriers.

“What enterprises really want is the bandwidth, but they have to buy expensive routers to get it,” explains Allegro’s co-founder Troy Dixler, who runs the consulting and engineering arms of the company. “We’re putting the capital expenditures onto the carrier…and the enterprise buys only the router ports that it needs.”

Allegro’s multirouter system is actually many routers in one box, with each router having its own processor, memory and operating system. The multirouter system can support many corporate networks within a single unit, but those networks are physically and logically separated from each other for security purposes. This approach ensures reliability by isolating each router’s traffic from other routers in the same multirouter system, while redundancy is available by purchasing additional routers.

For carriers, the multirouter system can conserve rack space and reduce administrative overhead by replacing many routers from different vendors with one piece of equipment. The box could let carriers offer new types of higher-margin services to their corporate customers, including managed intranet, extranet and security services.

“Managed services have become the mantra for [carriers] to sell, but their customers don’t want to give up control,” Dixler says. With multirouter systems, “the enterprises get what they require and the carriers get what they require.”

The first application that Allegro is pushing is what it calls Real Private Networks (RPN). RPNs are an alternative to VPNs, which create tunnels for sending corporate data over the public Internet. RPNs, on the other hand, are separate, isolated networks that route traffic over a carrier’s private IP backbone.

Allegro says RPNs will be less expensive than frame relay and ATM private networks, while offering more secure and reliable performance than Internet-based VPNs.

Industry analysts agree that Allegro has distinctive technical and marketing strategies for its multirouter system.

“Allegro Networks effectively commoditizes the high-end router and makes it available as a service offering by any upstream provider,” says David Willis, vice-president of global networking strategies at Meta Group. “This is not only cool technology but a very interesting business model.”

“There’s definitely a need for this product,” says Jennifer Liscom, a principal analyst with Gartner Inc. “I’ve toured [carriers’] data centres myself, and it’s amazing what a mish-mash of stuff they have in their cages. Having the same vendor providing all the equipment…means the overhead in terms of training and setting the equipment up is minimized.”

Other companies, including Lucent Technologies Inc. and CoSine Communications Inc., offer an alternative to multirouter systems called virtual routers. Virtual routers logically divide a single router processor and memory space to handle multiple routing tables, while a multirouter system allocates separate processors and memory to each customer’s routing table.

The advantage of Allegro’s multirouter system is that each company “has its own router, so there’s no chance of a security breach and there’s no chance of anybody else getting someone else’s information,” Liscom says.

Allegro would not identify the speeds and feeds of its multirouter system, its name or its target ship date. But industry analysts say the system will support standard routing protocols.

Allegro also wouldn’t identify any carrier customers yet, but Liscom says “they’re in a couple of major networks now.”

Allegro is at http://www.allegronetworks.com.