Daily Archives: August 14, 2012

Network-Virtualization Startup PLUMgrid Announces Funding, Reveals Little

Admit it, you thought I’d lost interest in software-defined networking (SDN), didn’t you?

But you know that couldn’t be true. I’m still interested in SDN and how it facilitates network virtualization, network programmability, and what the empire-building folks at EMC/VMware are billing as the software-defined data center, which obviously encompasses more than just networking.

Game On

Apparently I’m not the only one who retains an abiding interest in SDN. In the immediate wake of VMware’s headline-grabbing acquisition of network-virtualization startup Nicira Networks, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists want us to know that the game has just begun.

Last week, for example, we learned that PLUMgrid, a network-virtualization startup in the irritatingly opaque state of development known as stealth mode, has raised $10.7 million in first-round funding led by moneybags VCs U.S. Venture Partners (USVP) and Hummer Winblad Venture Partners. USVP’s Chris Rust and Hummer Winblad’s Lars Leckie have joined PLUMgrid’s board of directors. You can learn more about the individual board members and the company’s executive team, which includes former Cisco employees who were involved in the networking giant’s early dalliance with OpenFlow a few years ago, by perusing the biographies on the PLUMgrid website.

Looking for Clues 

But don’t expect the website to provide a helpful description of the products and technologies that PLUMgrid is developing, apparently in consultation with prospective early customers. We’ll have to wait until the end of this year, or early next year, for PLUMgrid to disclose and discuss its products.

For now, what we get is a game of technology charades, in which PLUMgrid executives, including CEO Awais Nemat, drop hints about what the company might be doing and their media interlocutors then guess at what it all means. It’s amusing at times, but it’s not illuminating.

At SDNCentral, Matt Palmer surmises that PLUMgrid might be playing in “the service orchestration arena for both physical and virtual networks.” In an article written by Jim Duffy at Network World, we learn that PLUMgrid sees its technology as having applicability beyond the parameters of network virtualization. In the same article, PLUMgrid’s Nemat expresses reservations about OpenFlow. To wit:

 “It is a great concept (of decoupling the control plane for the data plane) but it is a demonstration of a concept. Is OpenFlow the right architecture for that separation? That remains to be seen.”

More to Come

That observation is somewhat reminiscent of what Scott Schenker, Nicira co-founder and chief scientist and a professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at the University of California at Berkeley, had to say about OpenFlow last year. (Shenker also is a co-founder and officer of the Open Networking Foundation, a champion and leading proponent of OpenFlow.)

What we know for certain about PLUMgrid is that it is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., and plans to sell its network-virtualization software to businesses that manage physical, virtual, and cloud data centers. In a few months, perhaps before the end of the year, we’ll know more.

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Avaya Questions Mount

Those of you following the tortuous (some might call it torturous) saga of Avaya Inc. might wish to visit the investor-relations section of Avaya’s website or peruse Avaya’s latest Form-10Q filing on the SEC website.

Yes, Avaya’s numbers for its third fiscal quarter of 2012, which ended on June 30, are available for review. I have given the results a cursory look, and I’ve concluded that the story hasn’t changed appreciably since I last wrote about Avaya’s travails. There’s still no prospect of significant revenue growth, quarterly losses continue to accrue, channel sales are edging lower across the company’s product portfolio, and the long-term debt overhang remains formidable.

Goodwill Impairment? 

And there’s something else, which I neglected to mention previously: a persistently high amount of goodwill on the asset side of the ledger, at least some of which might have to be written down before long. The company’s goodwill assumptions seem willfully optimistic, and even Avaya concedes that “it may be necessary to record impairment charges in the future” if “market conditions continue to deteriorate, or if the company is unable to execute on its cost-reduction efforts.” While I believe the company will persist with its cost-reduction efforts, I don’t see a meaningful near-term turnaround in macroeconomic conditions or in the growth profile of the company’s product portfolio. Ergo, impairment charges seem inevitable.

In this regard, what you need to know is that Avaya is carrying goodwill of about $4.2 billion on its books as of June 30, up from nearly $4.1 billion as of September 30, 2011. The company’s total assets are about $8.24 billion, which means goodwill accounts for more than half that total.

For those desirous of a quick summary of revenue and net loss for the year, I can report that total revenue, including sales of products and services, amounted to $1.25 billion in the quarter, down from $1.37 billion in the corresponding quarter last year, a year-on-year decrease of $122 million or about 9 percent. Product sales were down across the board, except in networking, where sales edged up modestly to $74 million in the quarter this year from $71 million last year. Service revenue also was down. For the nine-month period ended on June 30, revenues also were down compared to the same period the previous year, dropping from $4.13 billion last year to about $3.9 billion this year.

Mulling the Options

Avaya’s net loss in the quarter was $166 million, up from $152 million last year.

The critical challenge for Avaya will be growth. The books show that the company is maintaining level spending on research and development, but one wonders whether its acquisition strategy or its R&D efforts will be sufficient to identify a new source of meaningful revenue growth, especially as it finds itself under mounting pressure to contain costs and expunge ongoing losses. Meanwhile, a foreboding long-term debt looms, kicked down the road but still a notable concern.

With the road to IPO effectively blocked — I really can’t see a way for Avaya to get back on that track now — Avaya’s private-equity sponsors, Silver Lake Partners and TPG Capital, must consider their options. Is there a potential strategic acquirer out there? Can the company be sold in whole, or will it have to be sold in parts? Or will the sponsors just hang on, hoping continued cost cutting and a strategic overhaul, perhaps including a change in executive leadership, might get the company back on course?