At the Network Systems Design Conference last week, the hot topic was access equipment. Instead of pushing performance up, the two leading network-processor vendors, Intel Corp. and Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC), unveiled new products that push cost down, targeting DSLAMs, wireless infrastructure and other access equipment.
Intel's new chip, code-named Westport but officially the IXP2350 family, is the first NPU built in 90-nanometer technology and touts improved integration and performance per watt. The chip handles workloads of OC-3 through OC-12 or Gigabit Ethernet data rates, ideal for access applications, where it replaces the popular IXP1200.
To reduce system cost, the IXP2350 includes an Xscale CPU at speeds of up to 1.2 GHz, eliminating the external control plane processor in most systems. The NPU also handles packet processing, traffic management and even encryption for IPsec.
Pricing starts below $100, putting the IXP2350 in direct competition with PowerQuicc-3. Freescale's PowerQuicc is widely used in access equipment but can't match the packet handling of the Intel NPU.
AMCC, for its part, plans to take its highly integrated OC-48 NPU, the nP3710, and downsize it for access applications. The new nP3705 will support OC-3 and OC-12 throughput for a wide range of access protocols. While the IXP2350 is already sampling, the nP3705 is not due until mid-2005.
Unlike Intel, AMCC supplies a complete solution for access systems. Paired with AMCC's Amur framer and PowerPC CPU, the nP3705 will constitute a three-chip set for multiservice applications, extending AMCC's Mission platform to lower price points.
Whereas Intel and AMCC offer software-compatible NPU lines with speeds ranging from access to 10 Gbits/second, Agere Systems Inc. takes a different approach. Taking advantage of its long history in Sonet and ATM, Agere has chosen to focus its infrastructure efforts entirely on the access sector.
Agere announced a next-generation Sonet mapper designed for Ethernet-over-Sonet applications in access equipment. Service pro-viders can use the device to carry packet data more efficiently while offering fractional- and variable-rate services.
Agere also offers network processors and traffic managers for the access segment, but it has recently stopped selling its 10-Gbit/s NPU and terabit switch fabric.
Chip vendors are chasing the access market because broadband infrastructure is one of the few places in which carriers are investing. Let's hope the chip vendors are ready when the carriers decide to beef up the metro network to support bandwidth flooding in from the new access infrastructure.
Linley Gwennap is founder and principal analyst of The Linley Group and co-author of A Guide to Storage Networking Silicon (www.linleygroup.com/npu).