Today is the fourth annual Start-Up Day in the U.S., which was begun as a way to bring awareness to the challenges of young companies and to help make it easier for them to test new ideas, create new products, and grow their businesses. In honor of this special day, our Top in Tech series highlights seven firms that are leading the way in networking technology.
Venture capitalists poured almost $20 billion into tech startups in the U.S. in 2014, according CB Insights, making it the biggest year for investors since the year 2000. And all signs point at 2015 coming in even higher.
That made it no easy task to create a short list of noteworthy firms. You won't find media favorites like Cloudera or Docker among the ranks. Instead, we've chosen lesser known up-and-comers that are changing network infrastructure and how we think about it. From wireless mesh and optical switching to protocol translation and vehicular networks, technology from the companies on the following pages will make you think about the untapped potential of the connected world.
(Cover image: pixdeluxe/iStockphoto)
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Networking startup Fiber Mountain aims to make the switching infrastructure in the software-driven data center one composed of fiber optics and photonics, rather than copper. Top-of-rack and core data center switches are showing their age in the new hyperscale world, and Fiber Mountain hopes companies will swap out their old three-tier networks for its photonic switches and Glass Core architecture. This architecture, says the company, is an optical fabric that can connect racks to each other or connect ports from servers, storage devices and routers directly to each other using a path of light.
In addition, Fiber Mountain has developed the Alpine Orchestration System, which dynamically discovers all the connection paths formed by the fiber cables within the Glass Core and can then reconfigure and optimize the physical connections and groom traffic at the edge or top-of-rack switches for optimal network resource usage. This provides a more flexible network and higher efficiency for data center resources, along with reduction in power consumption, heat dissipation, space, maintenance costs and complexity, wrote CEO M.H. Raza in the company's blog.
The company PureLiFi was spun out of the University of Edinburgh, where Chief Science Officer Harald Haas pioneered the development of LiFi. LiFi is an alternative to wireless networking that is based on visible light communication (VLC). The technology uses pulsating LED light that is invisible to the human eye to send data from one LiFi-enabled device to another. The company has already begun shipping its second product, called Li-Flame. It turns off-the-shelf light fixtures into LiFi access points that, when paired with a LiFi mobile unit attached to a laptop screen, allows users to roam within a room or building while connected. Light-based connectivity promises to not only reduce large amounts of infrastructure, but to offload large amounts of Internet traffic from existing wireless channels, also extending cellular and WiFi capacity across the board. And the company says it is more secure than traditional wireless because of its ability to be contained and controlled.
Koriist connects disparate communications networks with what it calls a "revolutionary software-defined multi-protocol data+network router overlay." There is little public information about the company, but this video demonstration shows a how its software product, called Stitch, forms an overlay distribution fabric that translates virtually any network protocol and weaves together disparate infrastructure, both old and new. The software runs on top of existing networks to allow legacy infrastructure to interoperate with new hardware, protocols and applications, like those used in the Internet of Things. Koriist hopes to make transport protocols irrelevant and deliver data instantly, regardless of where it is produced or the physical network it must transit. Earlier this year, Koriist was selected as the first company to join CiscoEIR@EvoNexus, a joint program between Cisco and startup technology incubator EvoNexus.
Founded earlier this year by Sanjit Biswas and John Bicket, the co-founders of Meraki, Samsara hopes to accelerate the adoption of sensor technology by making it easier to deploy. "We believe that if we make it easy to deploy sensors and analyze data, that customers of all types will finally be able to install them by the thousands in places theyve never been used before," wrote Biswas in the company blog. Sensors themselves are becoming more capable as they get tinier, allowing them to be used virtually anyplace. Yet enterprise-class systems are difficult to implement because of the complex infrastructure required on the back end, including wired networks, servers, middleware, and custom code.
Samsara has developed a software-centric solution that combines plug-and-play sensors, wireless connectivity, and cloud-hosted software that's already integrated for simple deployment. The company bears watching, as it has signed Marc Andreessen onto its board and hired engineers and designers from Google, Apple, MIT and Stanford.
Lots of startups are looking to capitalize on the Internet of Things, but French firm Sigfox is way ahead of most of them. In its five years, according to its website, the company has expanded across eight European countries, building a completely independent low-power wireless mesh network to support the emerging industrial IoT. Sigfox has developed an ultra-narrowband technology that promises lower cost, two-way transmission of small packets of data, intended to connect devices in different locations and across large geographical areas -- think wind turbines, oil rigs, and electric meters. SigFox's network provides ranges even larger than cellular networks, but with very low power requirements. A cloud-based software platform also provides device management, configuration, and data integration.
Software-defined WANs, also called hybrid WANs, are a burgeoning area of networking, so we had to include one of the frontrunners here. VeloCloud earned distinction at this year's Interop conference, earning the title of Best Startup in the Best of Interop competition. SD-WAN offerings aim to simplify provisioning of branch and remote offices, enable fine-grained policies, and enable the use of lower-cost Internet connections instead of, or alongside of, private circuits. VeloCloud has several components in its offering. First is a series of gateways located in a variety of service provider data centers. Second is an edge appliance that sits at each branch you want to connect.
VeloCloud creates an overlay on whatever network connection you want to use, including Internet broadband, DSL, LTE, and MPLS (or some combination of these options). Administrators can set traffic policies based on a variety of metrics, including performance, application requirements, and business priority. The SD-WAN space is relatively young, but definitely one in which innovation is alive and well. We'll follow up with a feature detailing more SD-WAN companies in the next few weeks.
Connected cars are hot, and the IoT is hot, so why not put them together? That's what Veniam is doing; pioneering what it calls the "Internet of Moving Things." With the goal to make Internet connectivity as ubiquitous as electricity, the company has developed a solution of hardware, software and cloud technology that creates a mesh network using vehicles as network nodes, basically converting any vehicle into a "mobile hotspot." It works on Wi-Fi networks, 3G, LTE and the 802.11p standard for vehicular transmissions, as well as the dedicated short-range communications band for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. By leveraging the 1 billion vehicles around the globe, the company has the potential to efficiently and cost effectively connect users in urban areas and to collect the data created there.
Veniam's first major deployment in Porto, Portugal, includes a city-wide vehicular mesh network stemming from a bus fleet, taxis and municipal service vehicles. This network offers free WiFi service to more than 150,000 unique users, says the company. Additional projects are underway in Barcelona and Singapore.