The new application network

Date:   Thursday , November 01, 2007

Imagine a world where you walk into an airport, drop your bags, and head straight for your flight. Your check-in, security scan, flight and seat validation were performed automatically from the moment you entered the airport till you took your seat in the aircraft. This seamless tracking will be delivered by a new application intelligent sensor and real-time services network to be known as the OMNITROL Network.

A new world of sensor networks
When Raj Saksena and Ash Vasudevan founded Omnitrol Networks in 2004, they had a clear vision of a coming sea change that was about to transform the networking landscape in ways not seen since the first packet-switched networks were deployed to connect computer systems together. With his executive background leading key advanced services and network initiatives for AT&T, Bell Laboratories, NYNEX, Nortel, and Empowertel Networks, Saksena had seen the evolution of Advanced Intelligent Network (AIN) services to the Unified VoIP and Multimedia Networks. He couldn’t help but imagine what the network of the future would look like as enterprises were adopting new smarter wireless devices and sensors.

Saksena saw that this new paradigm was not going to be solved by complex middleware or expensive back-end solutions. It was truly a convergence of sensors and real-time application intelligence at the edge, on the shop-floor. Security would become critical, so the new sensor network needed to be designed with a messaging and transactional service layer that was completely secure for all types of devices, wireless and wired. The extended sensor network would be using contact-less technologies such as RFID, Wi-Fi, Real-Time Location Services (RTLS), and Ultra-Wide Band. Saksena saw that a tremendous surge was about to take place in both business process innovation and in preparing the IT infrastructure to support this new network. “I saw a huge pain point coming in the form of device, data, and application integration that traditional software architectures were not going to be able to address and that was going to bring the deployment of contact-less technologies to a screaming halt. The intelligence had to be moved to the edge, where these devices were being used,” said Saksena.

Omnitrol Networks has conceived, designed, and produced the OMNITROL, the industry’s first all-in-one, industrial-grade, application network that is delivering real-time business intelligence through sensor technologies at the edge of the network. The OMNITROL Network was designed to complement the existing IT infrastructure through the convergence of sensors, application servers, and networking to deliver real-time operational visibility. “The product was not an intelligent switch, or smart router, or even an application server. It was all of the above and we called it the OMNITROL,” said Saksena. The word stems from the convergence of ‘Always-On’ and ‘Process Control’, or empowering users to be ‘Always In Control’. Forrester Research coined the term ‘Extended Internet’ or X-Internet to refer to this new real-time sensor network, but for Saksena it was going to be the OMNITROL Network.

Application network intelligence delivers the real-time enterprise
Omnitrol’s customers are creating a new sensor powered network for integrating real-time business intelligence in manufacturing automation, logistics tracking, and ultimately a more collaborative and intelligent supply-chain operations network. “By integrating the work-floor operations, the OMNITROL appliance provides managers with proactive alerts, process analytics through real-time web dashboards, and daily operating reports automatically without making it a huge IT project,” said Joe Ireland, Chief Architect at Omnitrol Networks.

The OMNITROL has developed a powerful new paradigm in real-time Work-In-Process (WIP) visibility and traceability. With a peer-to-peer software architecture, the OMNITROL delivers shop-floor to shop-floor intelligent supply-chain event processing to enable much leaner and Just-in-Time (JIT) inventory management between multi-site operations and across trading partners. “The costs of not detecting production delays or changes at the right time have an exponential effect through the production life cycle, distribution, sales, and customer satisfaction. The OMNITROL helps manufacturers make sure the right parts are at the right place at the right time,” said David Orain, Vice-President of Marketing at Omnitrol Networks.
Software as an appliance

To meet the scalability, performance, and flexibility requirements, the Omnitrol team developed a powerful service execution platform that resides on the OMNITROL Network. The service execution environment includes a real-time event-driven Services Description Language (SDL) that enables rapid service creation and customization which they call EDGELETS™. The EDGELET service execution tools have been so well received by their customers that University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and University of Missouri at Rollo (UMR) are using the OMNITROL to teach their graduate students advanced manufacturing programming, tracking, and automation techniques.

By combining all the computing, networking, and software resources into a single physical device, Omnitrol Networks is going to be a catalyst of the IT transformation that will support the proliferation of intelligent edge networks. The OMNITROL appliance is taking the complexity out of the deployment of sensor technologies and smart devices on the shop-floor and delivering operational performance improvements at the lowest total cost of ownership in the market. It’s no wonder that the company received the Frost & Sullivan innovation award for best RFID middleware earlier this year and was selected by Managing Automation as one of the top 10 companies to watch in 2008.

Development and deployment through strategic partnerships
In order to rapidly deliver the best product for the market, Omnitrol entered into a key strategic development and deployment partnership with the Boeing Company. As a partner, Omnitrol was instrumental in enabling a fundamental transformation to network-enable their manufacturing processes and integrated supply chains. The OMNITROL appliance was selected by Boeing to develop the next generation Integrated Global Operations infrastructure. “Our work with Boeing represents a significant milestone in the development of the OMNITROL to deliver an EPCIS-compliant partner network that doesn’t require any customization or upgrades of existing back-end systems,” said Ravi Rishy-Maharaj, Vice-President of Business Development at Omnitrol Networks.

As Omnitrol wanted to accelerate the deployment of scalable solutions, the company established strategic partnerships with Motorola and IBM. “Working with Motorola, we are able to tap into a huge installed base and expertise of smart devices and develop solutions that are delivering advanced manufacturing automation for our customers,” said Saksena. IBM’s global presence and expertise in software services allow Omnitrol to work with customers traditionally out of the reach of many small corporations. “The synergy, passion, and collaboration are so strong that sometimes it’s hard to know who works for whom,” added Ravi Rishy-Maharaj.

Building the next Cisco
Cisco’s Application Oriented Networking (AON) is a good example of some of the networking equipment vendors creating more business service value on their networking gear by packing more intelligence into their products. “The equipment vendors have a huge disadvantage because they are always looking at the solution from a port perspective instead of taking an integrated networking and software application approach. In some cases, these vendors are years away from realizing the value of real-time intelligence at the edge,” said Saksena.

As a serial entrepreneur, Raj Saksena has been witnessing a gap growing in the Silicon Valley between entrepreneurs and VC’s since the dotcom and telecom busts in 2000. What was once a fascinating synergetic teamwork has evolved into an association that lacks trust, communication and, too often, results in suspicion, short-sightedness, and frustration for all parties. “I’ve seen this wedge getting bigger and bigger between the entrepreneur and the VC community that is unfortunately causing a meltdown in perhaps the most successful innovation engine ever created,” said Saksena. With his experience as an entrepreneur but also as an angel and venture partner with Edge Ventures, a San Mateo investment firm, Raj has been developing Omnitrol as a real business that strives to deliver disruptive technology innovation for the enterprise marketplace, so far, without any venture investment. “We hope that our team entrepreneurship, hard work, and success through perseverance will reignite the synergies and trust that is so critical in our Silicon Valley culture,” said Saksena. Omnitrol Networks has surpassed what many post series-C companies cannot accomplish.

Saksena has built a global company headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley in Mountain View, California with R&D operations in Canada, Germany, and India. However, their biggest challenge to success might not be with the talent or investors but rather with the degree of hype and negativity generated about the RFID technology due to Wal-Mart’s mandates and demands on their suppliers. Omnitrol has taken an inside-out approach by focusing the value of RFID and contact-less sensor technologies to improve the suppliers’ shop-floor operations. As Saksena is quick to point out, “Ultimately, the innovation must become a win for all to scale massively.” Omnitrol seems to be on the path to delivering the winning proposition for all.