Acquisition gives Mellanox ‘speedy’ tech for data centers

Silicon Valley-based Kotura’s silicon photonics raise the networking speeds its Israeli buyer can offer customers

Kotura's 100Gbps optical engine. (Photo credit: Kotura)
Kotura's 100Gbps optical engine. (Photo credit: Kotura)

In a twist on the usual scenario, Israeli networking equipment manufacturer Mellanox will be opening a research and development facility in the United States.

The new Mellanox facility is the result of the company’s acquisition of California-based Kotura, a pioneer in silicon-photonics, a new technology that promises to significantly speed up network data transfer. The deal has Mellanox paying $82 million in cash for Kotura, and the purchase should be complete later this year, the two companies said in a press release.

As more data gets sent over the Internet, the companies that run the data centers that are the crossroads of that traffic have two choices — either deploy new routers and lines to handle the increased traffic, or “throttle” data transfers, slowing down traffic for certain customers. The former requires significant outlays for equipment and energy use, while the latter generates customer dissatisfaction and complaints, and doesn’t really solve the problem; users are not going to send less data through “the pipes” just because things have slowed down.

Silicon-photonics, a relatively new networking technology, holds a lot of promise, and with its acquisition of Kotura, Mellanox joins a very limited club of multinational tech companies that are developing silicon-photonic solutions, like IBM, Cisco, and Intel, said Mellanox VP Development Gilad Shainer. “Only a few companies are at the point where they can deploy these solutions, and Mellanox is now one of them,” he said.

The centerpiece of Kotura’s technology is its recently developed silicon-photonic engine that can pass data at 100 gigabits per second (Gb/s) – 10 times faster than the best rate at most data centers today – with the possibility of reaching far higher speeds, up to 1,000 Gb/s, or terabit per second (Tb/s). The optical silicon technology engineered by Kotura moves data along far more briskly than the electrical conductor technology used today, so the addition of Kotura will give Mellanox a real advantage in a burgeoning market, Shainer said.

Mellanox, along with Teva, Checkpoint, and a few choice others, is one of the few Israeli companies to make it as a major corporation abroad while still remaining in Israeli hands. Shainer attributes that success to Mellanox’s ability to “give the people what they want,” with high-quality, fast, and dependable networking equipment that is more advanced than what the competition is offering. “We are at least one generation ahead of the others, like Intel. At this point, most data centers are using our equipment,” Shainer said of Mellanox’s InfiniBand (IB) line of networking equipment.

Mellanox sells to big companies like Microsoft, which uses Mellanox’s system for its Bing Maps, and Oracle, which deploys Mellanox equipment in many of its facilities. And the company makes branded equipment for many companies, including Dell, HP, and IBM.

Now, with the Kotura acquisition, the company will be able to expand its offerings, and hopefully its customer list, said Eyal Waldman, president, CEO and chairman of Mellanox. “Operating networks at 100 gigabit per second rates and higher requires careful integration between all parts of the network,” said Waldman. “We believe that silicon photonics is an important component in the development of 100 Gigabit InfiniBand and Ethernet solutions, and that owning and controlling the technology will allow us to develop the best, most reliable solution for our customers.”

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