January 18, 2007

Crossbeam Systems — the future of appliances?

Crossbeam Systems is the closest thing I’ve found to what is – at least tentatively — my vision of the appliance future. It offers a blade-based computing box that differs from standard boxes in the same direction that appliances typically do. I.e., Crossbeam systems boast beefed up networking, maybe some beefed-up reliability as well, and maybe other beefed-up security processing in the future. Then they offer a software infrastructure (virtualization, robustness, etc.) to let various pieces of software – in Crossbeam’s case, security and security-like tools – run on the box.

The company seems to be doing well. It was founded with a focus on telecom carriers, but gets 40% of its business from enterprises (post-bubble strategy shift). Privately held, it claims many hundreds of customers, with lots of repeat business. There seems to be an analyst study ranking them extremely highly for the high-end of the market. Check Point mentioned Crossbeam to me in the same breath as Nokia as one its two principal revenue sources among appliance partners, which is impressive because the Check Point/Nokia combination goes back to very early days. It also suggests that Crossbeam is selling a lot of stuff.

According to my notes, there are four major components to Crossbeam’s chassis-based products:

(Actually, I’m not too clear on whether it’s “processing” or ”processor” in those names; indeed, I’m not 100% sure they’re firm on the point themselves …)

NPMs, CPMs, and APMs are all separate blades; in fact, they can be bought separately, potentially with various software products already loaded, if you already have a Crossbeam chassis. Each incorporates a Crossbeam networking-oriented FPGAs. The NPM itself has further FPGAs (I’m not sure what they’re used for). Next-generation product plans incorporate a 16-core MIPS security processor (I’m not sure in which modules). Except for these components, the modules seem to be fairly generic Intel-based blades.

Crossbeam’s choice of specific software partners is probably the least interesting aspect of the story. It’s biased towards traditional industry leaders who haven’t committed to an appliance strategy themselves, notably Check Point, ISS, Sourcefire, Trend Micro, Websense, and Optinet. However, it’s not a strict best-of-breed list. For example, the French defense agencies don’t like to buy from Israeli vendors, and hence Crossbeam supports a couple of no-name Gallic firewalls as Check Point alternatives.

Crossbeam claims that lack of management integration among these point products is not a competitive problem, since it sells to customers large enough that different individuals management different aspects of security and networking anyway. In fact, separation of duties and hence privileges is a best practice for maximum security.


4 Responses to “Crossbeam Systems — the future of appliances?”

  1. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Check Point Software’s unusual appliance strategy on January 18th, 2007 5:20 am

    […] Check Point started out selling software on Sun boxes and the like. Rather than get into appliances itself, it formed partnerships with hardware vendors who’d roll its software into appliances, and soon a lot of its business came from this channel, especially via Nokia. This strategy has continued, with Crossbeam Systems joining Nokia in providing large chunks of Check Point’s overall revenue. […]

  2. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Guide to my recent research on computing appliances on January 18th, 2007 5:25 am

    […] By way of contrast, there’s also a group whose stance is more along “hardware/schmardware” lines. Sendio and Proofpoint (in most cases) really don’t anything special at all in their boxes; what’s more, Proofpoint actually has significant software-only deployments over VMware’s virtualization layer. Kognitio and Greenplum think their software-only data warehouse offerings are appliance-equivalents too; indeed, Greenplum’s software is sold mainly bundled with Sun hardware (to the extent it’s sold at all), and Kognitio is hinting at an appliance-like offering for competitive reasons as well. Check Point Software plays both sides of the field; it offers its own kind of “virtual appliance,” but also gets many of its sales through appliance vendors. Its most interesting such partner, if not its biggest, is Crossbeam Systems, which in my opinion may very well represent the future of appliance technology. • • • […]

  3. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Appliances — my conclusions! (For now, at least) on January 29th, 2007 10:23 am

    […] Type 2 is where most appliance vendors ideally would want to be. Examples can already be found in data warehousing, antispam, and firewall. Also, a variety of platform vendors are interested in supporting virtual appliances, including VMware, Microsoft, maybe IBM, and Crossbeam. Crossbeam’s strategy may be the most interesting of all. • • • […]

  4. The Monash Report » Blog Archive » Check Point Systems UTM-1 and Crossbeam Systems – resolving the confusion on May 29th, 2008 5:49 am

    […] platforms – the high-end X-series and the midrange C-series. The X-series is the one with the architecture I previously praised, and about which Paul himself is “really excited.” The less remarkable C-series, however, is […]

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