FRAMINGHAM (03/16/2000) - Chuck Farner had a bandwidth problem, brought on by graphically rich applications and an increasing reliance on the Internet.
Bandwidth management was fast becoming a full-time occupation at his company, Wyle Electronics, and Farner is a man with very little spare time.
It's no surprise, then, that he leaped to acquire Expand Networks Inc.'s plug-and-play bandwidth management system. Since October, Expand's Accelerator 4000 appliance has fit nicely alongside Wyle's Cisco Systems Inc. routers, providing a confirmed 300 percent increase in bandwidth.
Farner says the Accelerator is cheaper than the usual alternative of leasing more T1 lines and is more effective and easier to manage than other optimization schemes. "I can't think of the last time we needed to worry about [our accelerators]," he says.
Expand Networks' name aptly describes the mission of this 3-year-old startup.
Its products were designed for hands-off bandwidth conservation that extends existing wide-area network resources.
Bandwidth Usually Expensive
The time-honored way to expand network bandwidth is to simply add T1/E1 leased connections. That's a $2,000-per-month proposition domestically, and far more expensive when extended overseas.
But putting two $10,975 Accelerators between routers on your existing private lines can virtually quadruple your pipe - much better than adding a new T1 line.
Wyle's Accelerators yielded "about a 13-month [return on investment]," Farner says of the setup linking his company's headquarters in Irvine, Calif., and a distribution center in Phoenix. The Accelerator optimizes data transmissions between routers, analyzing packets to determine which data can be cached. Once cached, a bit-sipping pointer to the data is transmitted instead of the entire file.
The device also separates protocol information, such as headers, and uses algorithms to reduce their size, a process called vertical data analysis (VDA).
Adaptive compression, which assigns different types of compression algorithms to reduce data size, handles whatever selective caching and VDA can't optimize.
The Accelerator 4000 also employs quality-of-service prioritization to give special handling to delay-sensitive data, such as voice-over-IP traffic.
Expand co-founder Talmon Marco says mainframe applications see the biggest bandwidth jumps - up to 400 percent - and the performance of Internet data can increase by as much as 150 percent. The technologies are less effective for videoconferencing, yielding performance gains of less than 10 percent.
Farner says Expand Networks responded to Wyle's request for a feature that keeps T1s up at their old bandwidth if the Accelerator fails. "Not only do we have extra input, they ask for it," Farner says.
Analysts characterize Expand Networks as a dominant niche player that must stay ahead of trends that could offer better bandwidth options. The company has profitable opportunities in developing markets like Russia and Latin America, where T1 alternatives such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode are scarce, says Tere Bracco, a principal at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va. Bracco says Expand has five years or so until those countries catch up.
Meanwhile, says Bracco, "I don't see a lot of progress being made that obviates the need for the Accelerator 4000. It's there first, it meets a defined need and it's meeting it very cost-effectively."
The Accelerator also offers enhancements for private data lines that cross oceans.
Golden Lines Ltd., an Israeli Internet service provider, uses Accelerator 4000s on a domestic E1 line and two overseas lines connecting satellite downlinks in the Boston area and New Jersey. These connections would normally cost $30,000 a month. "We can basically cut the expenses by 50 percent," explains technical manager Tomer Zaidel, who says attempts to use compression built into Cisco 7206 and 7513 routers produced disappointing gains of less than 10 percent.
The product line's biggest weakness is frame-relay support, which Marco promises by spring. It's a critical missing link, since many customers will turn to frame relay for their next bandwidth fix. Expand also plans to introduce Accelerators with built-in channel service units/data service units to minimize box counts at remote sites.
Essex is a freelance writer in Antrim, N.H.
Expand Networks Inc.
Talmon Marco, co-founder of Expand, says mainframe connections achieve the biggest boost from Accelerator 4000Location: 103 Eisenhower Parkway, Roseland, N.J. 07068Telephone: (888) 892-1250Web: www.expand.comThe technology: Bandwidth acceleration - a mix of technologies that can quadruple effective bandwidth on private circuitsWhy it's worth watching: Dominates market niche for extending bandwidth in countries where broadband options aren't as well established as in the U.S.
Company officers: - Zohar Pearl, CEO and chairman of the board- Talmon Marco, co-founder and president- Nir Kalkstein, chief technology officer- Ziv Haparnas, vice president of research and developmentMilestones: Founded in 1997. Released its first product in September of last yearEmployees: 50Profitability date: 2001Burn money: $12 million from American and Israeli sourcesProducts: Accelerator 4000, sold in pairs for $10,975 eachCustomers: Enron Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and Wyle Electronics are U.S. customers. Internet Gold, an Israeli Internet service provider, is a major overseas client.
Red flags for IT:- Expect labs at 3Com Corp., Cisco and other companies to cook up similar systems for next-generation routers that could lessen the value of Expand's offerings. - Network providers may offer better bundling and pricing of T1/E1s, cutting into Accelerator's cost advantage.