Canadian WAN firm thinks inside the box

A little-known wide area network (WAN) equipment maker from Markham, Ont., hopes to take a bite out of Cisco’s massive market pie – and raise its profile in the process – with internal routers that snap directly into the server and bypass other devices en route to the wall socket.

Sangoma Technologies Corp. this month released the S514/56 and the S514/ET1 routers for 56/64Kbps DDS lines and E-1 (the European version of T-1) lines, respectively. In a couple of months Sangoma will release a 56Kbps/T-1 card that employs software to switch between both line types.

The device, which looks like an internal modem or an Ethernet card, replaces the entire hub/router/CSU-DSU combination, according to CEO David Mandelstam.

“Routers…will be moving inside the box the same way external modems moved inside PCs,” he said during a press briefing in Toronto. “That’s a big opportunity for us.”

According to Mandelstam, Sangoma’s solution is less prone to breakdowns because it has fewer parts than traditional connectivity architectures. It takes up less space, consumes less power and it’s less expensive. A single $1,300 card replaces $5,000 worth of equipment, he said.

The router works with various operating systems – products from Sun Microsystems Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Linux-based programs among them. It’s as easy to install as an Ethernet card and it comes packaged with the tools you’d need to keep it healthy. “You don’t have to go on a $1,500 Cisco course” to learn the technology, Mandelstam said.

Geoff Dane, an engineering specialist at the satellite communications firm Telesat Canada, said the Sangoma cards his company uses to connect hospitals and schools in remote parts of the country to the Internet work well.

However, “This is very preliminary,” Dane said. “We have two crews installing them in Labrador right now. I’ll have a better picture of how things are going to work about a month from now.”

Paul Strauss, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said Sangoma’s product might find a place in the market. Still, he said he remains skeptical.

“While it is possible to locate the router at that place (the server), I seen no advantage in doing it,” he said. “It is good that they bypass the server’s DSU, since others that have attempted server-based routers (slow) down the DSU.”

Strauss added, “Buyers remain suspicious of adding anything to their server, even if told that it does not slow down the server.”

That was Dane’s concern. Telesat puts Sangoma’s routers between its customers’ WANs and the satellite modem.

“What we were initially concerned with the Sangoma card was, we wanted to buy some pretty inexpensive computers to run them on and we thought that possibly running the routing and the WAN protocol on the computer would bog it down. As it turns out, most of the processing is done on the Sangoma card. I checked a site we had running for about 36 days last night, and it’s only (taking up) about one per cent (of the computer’s resources).”

Gideon Hack, Sangoma’s CTO, figures education is the way forward. “People have been doing things like this for so long,” he said of traditional connectivity. “It’s quite difficult to change people’s minds.”

Although the company came together in 1984, Sangoma’s representatives acknowledge its low profile in data com circles. So far the firm has penned deals with Apigent Solutions, Compaq Computer Corp., Lucent Technologies Inc., along with Telesat and others.

Hack said Sangoma expects its 56/64Kbps router to grow popular among North American telcos. But in the meantime, “One of the poorest markets for us is Canada; we’re not quite sure why,” Mandelstam said. “We sell more in Poland.”

For pricing and availability information, visit the Sangoma Web site at