Optical start-up collaboration stands tall

In a bold charge to gain a foothold in a market dominated by heavy hitters such as Cisco Systems Inc., Nortel Networks Corp., and Lucent Technologies Inc., a group of four optical networking start-ups revealed plans Monday to collaborate on building a cohesive optical architecture for carriers.

The alliance is calling itself the Iris Group. The vendors’ approach pools the efforts of four legally separate start-ups that will build gear for specific areas of optical networks. The development efforts of each company will adhere to a common network architecture and network management strategy in order to present a unified, end-to-end offering to carriers.

Among the start-ups involved in the group is Texas-based Iris Labs, which will act as a design laboratory for intellectual property and will help coordinate the architecture. The other three companies are independently developing networking products that address different pieces of the optical solutions, officials said.

The other three companies include Matera Networks, in Richardson, Tex., which provides metro access optical gear; Latus Lightworks, also in Richardson, providing optical backbone systems; and Tinton Falls, N.J.-based Coree Networks, which provides optical core products.

According to one analyst, the Iris Group’s approach hits on one of the main issues service providers face.

“The biggest problem of service providers is interoperability or interworking between different vendors’ equipment through one common interface. [The individual start-up] companies develop on their own, but if you buy in to the Iris solutions you can implement that across your infrastructure,” said Ron Kline, senior analyst for transport at RHK, in Cortlandt Manner, N.Y.

Addressing this problem may help the quartet of start-ups gain a leg up on competing optical equipment vendors, many of which can offer a full platform with management, Kline added.

“The difference stems from a perceived need to compete with overall solutions presented by some of the bigger, more established companies that offer end-to-end connectivity and management systems,” Kline said. “If you are a single start-up in one particular area – the metro core, access, or long haul – it is difficult to compete with a full complement of products that help providers in all parts of their networks.”

The start-up alliance also faces stiff competition from more established optical start-ups such as Ciena, Corvis, and Sycamore Networks.

The four companies involved in the Iris Group will be synchronized with each other and will work against a common timetable for product development and release, according to Michael Zadikian, chairman and CEO of Iris Labs

Zadikian said the co-start-up business model results from the continued need for innovation coupled with a broad vision of the optical market.

“This is a way to combine the agility and innovation of a start-up with the big picture perspective. Carriers have seen innovation in individual boxes but it has been a challenge to pull them together to build a solution that is efficient and manageable end to end,” Zadikian said. “With [larger] vendors, internal innovations have stopped in favor of acquisitions, [which] puts pressure on the integration task necessary to create a solution.”

The original product concept, which looked at the deployment of data services, was too broad to narrow down to a single traditional start-up, according to Zadikian

“We looked at existing models, like incubators, laboratory companies, network management companies, but nothing was a perfect fit. The innovations are aimed at propelling the deployment of flexible data services. We are focused [on] going beyond the pipe management business and thinking about the data services and the melding of the optical infrastructure with data,” Zadikian said.

Zadikian said specific technology announcements would follow in the first half of next year.