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July - 2009 - issue > Cover Story
IXIA Enabling Reliable Networks
Jaya Smitha Menon
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Over the last decade or so Calabasas, CA-based Ixia has emerged as a leader in Converged IP-based testing products for both wireline and wireless IP networks. A Provider of performance test systems for IP-based infrastructure and services, Ixia is now adding advanced wireless test systems to its products offeringkitty thereby strengthening its footprint in the wireless test space.

Atul Bhatnagar, CEO of Ixia, is quick to recognize when the market moves, and he realized the opportunities emerging in the 3G and 4G networks. His customers – network equipment manufacturers and service providers – are seeking a testing solution that covers wireless edge and Internet core convergence. Atul asked for his customers’ thoughts and received the following answer: “If only we could test the mobile services and multimedia device services from a wireless edge to the Internet core, that will boost the quality of service and bring in more efficiency and usability.”

Six months ago Atul knocked on the doors of Catapult Communications, a leader in 3G and 4G wireless network solutions and testing products to discuss an acquisition. Very few companies in the world today have the expertise to test the wireless edge and Internet core. Catapult is now a part of Ixia, a NASDAQ listed entity that evolved from a startup into a public company with $174 million in revenues and a market capitalization of $431.4 million in less than a decade.

Founded in May 1997, Ixia set out to address the needs of network equipment manufacturers (NEMs). Its vision was helping NEMs design highly scalable and efficient network equipments. At that time, networks were evolving as the bedrock of all communication, and the Ethernet switching market had just opened up.

The SmartBits line from Netcom Systems was the first switch tester. The lack of diversity in the market left an opportunity for another competitor, as clients wanted competition. Ixia ventured into the space and their first testing system was built from scratch in just one year. In June 1998, Cisco became their first major client.

Today, it is due to companies like Ixia that network equipment manufacturers are able to test their new products and consistently adhere to industry standards. The company invested considerable amounts of time and money developing test systems that consistently generate repeatable patterns and varying amounts of traffic to test standards compliance. Using Ixia’s test systems, network device vendors can assure interoperability between legacy equipment and new purchases.
Ixia's highly scalable solutions generate, capture, and characterize network and application traffic, establishing definitive performance and conformance metrics for network devices or systems under test. Ixia's triple play test systems address the growing need to test voice, video, data, and network capability under real-world conditions. Ixia's test systems use a wide range of industry-standard interfaces, including Ethernet, SONET, ATM, and wireless connectivity, and are distinguished by their performance, accuracy, reliability, and adaptability to the industry's constant evolution. It’s no wonder Ixia is a market leader in testing.

Ixia also understands the need to expand and not rest on its laurels – an exponentially growing demand for Internet traffic has changed market. The need for networks to handle applications such as IPTV, video, peer-to-peer sharing, and wireless backhaul is becoming readily apparent. Aggregating 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GE) links to handle increased bandwidth not only complicates data center topologies, but is also costly and labor-intensive. It’s essential that single, higher-speed links be available in the data center and throughout the Internet. The exponential increase in network traffic requires a leap from 10 GE aggregations to Higher-Speed Ethernet (HSE) connections. The next step in data center evolution is 40 GE and 100 GE speed network devices.

To meet this need, Ixia developed the first-to-market test solution for network equipment manufacturers developing 40/100 GE devices, providing full IP layer 2-7 measurement and analysis. Test requirements for 40/100 GE compliant devices range from generating and analyzing the simplest layer 2 data plane traffic, all the way up to sophisticated stateful network communication testing, including IPTV, VoIP, video on demand, HDTV, Internet gaming, and multimedia streaming services.

Ixia has been an active participant in the IEEE P802.3ba standardization effort started in 2006 with the IEEE Higher Speed Study Group (HSSG), which validated the needs for the next generation of Ethernet traffic. Ixia facilitated the development of the new standards, including prototyping the proposed methods for the new 40 GE and 100 GE physical coding sublayer (PCS). PCS lanes are a key enabler that allow today's component, fiber optic, and computer processor technologies to be used at high 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps rates. Ixia assisted in developing PCS lanes, a key component of the PCS solution.

As the IEEE P802.3ba standard moves toward finalization in 2010, Ixia's FPGA-based design strategy provides the flexibility that allows it to keep pace with the developing standard. This allows network equipment manufacturers and other developers to test their standards-compliant products accurately and get to market faster.

The Next Wave

Recently Ixia announced the industry’s first 100 Gigabit Ethernet implementation. But why 100 Gigabit Ethernet? Bhatnagar explains that the proliferation of video and multimedia over wired and wireless networks is escalating at such a pace that carriers and large enterprises know that they must increase their bandwidth capacity every few years. “The revolution continues,” Bhatnagar adds. “Data centers are now deploying significant 10 Gigabit Ethernet switching and connectivity. The convergence of storage, data, voice, and video flowing is driving the adoption of 10 Gigabit Ethernet in data centers. The adoption of 10 Gigabit Ethernet will lead to the adoption of 100 Gigabit Ethernet in data centers. At the same time, carriers are also looking at what will be the next-generation infrastructure technologies. 100 Gigabit Ethernet will play a role there as well.”

But while Ixia is investing in 100 Gigabit Ethernet testing, it’s also strengthening its participation in 10 Gigabit Ethernet networks testing, expecting that market to continue to grow for the company.

Working to Solve Problems

Ixia is not simply content to be number one in pre-deployment testing. “Until now, we’ve been primarily focused on pre-deployment testing. Now we are going toward post-deployment service verification. How do we help customers run networks with quality? How do we bulletproof the networks with good monitoring and the right diagnostic tools?” Bhatnagar and his team’s constant focus on innovation have enabled Ixia to always concentrate on the next big wave in technology.

So what makes Ixia different from other testing companies? A good example is the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). NMMA’s role as the premiere provider of Web services for its 1,500-plus-member community carries with it the responsibility of ensuring that the distributed services meet the individual needs of members from a Web performance and availability standpoint. The challenge is to verify the performance flexibility and scalability of the NMMA network by realistically emulating member activity during pre-deployment of services or bandwidth. Pre-deployment testing helps understand network capacity limits.

The Ixia test solution for NMMA was designed to generate the kind of realistic traffic conditions required to accurately measure key performance metrics of the NMMA network using simulated layer 2-3 and layer 4-7 traffic loads. Such testing is critical in accurately predicting performance degradation well before the user experience is affected, and in assisting in capacity planning and scalability design issues. Additionally, such test data helps justify costs associated with initial network buildout and future network expansion. Ixia’s test solution allowed NMMA validate the system design, improve user support, plan capacity requirements, predict scalability, and justify cost expenditures. NMMA’s users benefited with faster Web response times, more reliable Web access, a broader range of distributed services, and increased user flexibility.

A few months back, Ixia also released a new product called IxRave, a service verification product. “We’re already deploying it at a couple of carriers to provide diagnostics tools for the service professionals of these networks,” says Bhatnagar.

Market Moves

As a company focused on network performance testing, Ixia is very conscious of the fact that they must have their test solutions ready to go three or four quarters before customers release their products. Ixia’s business sometimes seems like a risky one, since they often develop IP Ethernet test tools before standards bodies have consolidated the standards. By adopting standards at an early stage and making sure that the testing tools are ready by the time customers are beginning to design their products, they are always on the cutting edge of technology.

“That’s where we rely on FPGA,” says Bhatnagar. “FPGA-based designs give us the flexibility of adapting to both market and technology changes and yet maintain the first-to-market advantage.” As in any industry, the first-to-market advantage is a significant one. Moreover, Bhatnagar feels that it is always a good strategy to move first and be a thought leader than to spend gobs of marketing dollars later. “If you are first, the industry does the marketing for you,” he explains.

Leading the Edge

With an eye on the costs of energy, Ixia and its partner Juniper Networks developed a framework to measure the energy efficiency of network and telecommunications devices. The two have formed a consortium, the Energy Consumption Rating (ECR) Initiative, which provides ways to evaluate the energy efficiency of network equipment. The group has devised the ECR draft specification 1.02, which features a “performance-per-energy unit” rating. This rating correlates Watts of electricity used per Gigabit-per-second of the bandwidth provided, and reports that information in various ways, such as peak usage and weighted metrics.

The notion of putting more metrics in place to measure network equipment energy usage seems well founded. NEMs have lagged behind computer manufacturers in making their products energy efficient.

The Success Quotient
“Ixia’s continued success,” says Bhatnagar, “is driven by a company-wide adherence to its core values and customer-centric focus. The drive is to put all pressing issues on the table, and to be clear and direct in communications. We listen to the customers intently. From engineering to system testing to support to sales, we value customer insights, and this has helped us to come up with new technologies ahead of market demand. Our engineers go the extra mile if there is a way to make things happen.”

The company’s core values also reflect this customer-centric approach. Ixia understands that a profitable business is built through intimate customer partnerships and by maintaining laser-sharp focus on customer delight, both external and internal.

Another important aspect contributing to Ixia’s success is a constant focus on innovation. The management strives to foster a passion for innovation and quality throughout Ixia. This focus led to the formation of Ixia Labs. “Ixia's lifeblood is innovation, and its future is dependent on it," says Bhatnagar .Ixia Labs, which is structured to accelerate innovation in Ixia is now focusing on the next generation technology of IP testing solutions. Ixia Labs is also chartered to participate in international standards bodies, such as the IEEE and ITU. Ixia Labs' first project was the development of the aforementioned test equipment for Higher-Speed Ethernet (HSE), which resulted in a 100 GE proof-of-concept demonstration, a 40 GE proof-of-concept demonstration, and eventually Ixia’s current shipping HSE test solution. IxiaLabs looks at emerging technologies that are a year or more from initial deployment. "Ixia Labs is our incubator  the small seeds they sow will become the giant redwoods of our industry,” says Bhatnagar. Errol Ginsberg, the Founder and Chairman of Ixia, heads up the Lab.

The market size for the wired IP network testing products is estimated to be around $500 million, and wireless products to be around $300 million. Ixia has already captured a major market share in both areas. But as a company that from its beginnings concentrated on developing and releasing next generation, cutting-edge testing technology ahead of market demand, it’s not content to stand still. Inside the Ixia Labs the engineers are brainstorming their way to future.

At the Helm of Affairs

Atul Bhatnagar, the CEO of Ixia, firmly believes that no innovation is unimaginable. This motto helps him drive his company’s success, and keeps it at the top. He says, "In our industry, you also have to have people believing in the mission. You have to constantly adapt and look at the trends, but the more you communicate and share your vision, the more it becomes your employees’ vision as well." Bhatnagar originally hails from India, where in 1978 he received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani. He came to the United States in1981 to obtain a master’s degree, also in electrical engineering, from the University of New Mexico and landed a job at Tektronix developing networking gear. In 1985, he joined Hewlett-Packard (HP) and worked in the field of open systems networking for eight years. At HP, he tasked himself with learning different aspects of business, from technology to marketing and management, and climbed the corporate ladder to become HP’s General Manager.

"I was always open to taking up new roles and responsibilities throughout my career," says the veteran of the communications industry. This attitude led him to immeasurable contributions over his 15 year stint at HP. Bhatnagar oversaw the creation of the operation support systems (OSS) and business support systems (BSS) solutions for wireless service providers, based on HP’s OpenView architecture. His team was also responsible for networking services for all HP-UX workstations and minicomputers. He left HP in 2000 and joined a company called Alteon Web Systems, which created next-generation Web Switches and security acceleration products. Alteon was acquired by Nortel in October of that year. Bhatnagar served as vice president and general manager of the Enterprise Data Networks division of Nortel. Bhatnagar’s next role was head of product development at the mobile convergence startup DiVitas Networks. In 2007, Ixia chose him to be their new president and COO. Bhatnagar was named president and CEO in March 2008. As a CEO he believes his role is that of a coach. "I always believe you should surround yourselves with people who are better than you,” he says. “Then you have to make sure the team is working well, the employees are energized, the value system is in place, and that you have a sense of urgency in execution."

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