A small Danish engineering firm with roots in Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) is positioning itself as a center of expertise for Metro Ethernet Forum semiconductors and firmware by supplying chipsets, modules, and design assistance for small OEMs moving into Ethernet access.
Two years ago, Tpack A/S was a small group working on switching technology for Generic MPLS, under the assumption that most Ethernet services were dead, according to Per Hansen, chief technical officer and co-founder of the company, based outside Copenhagen.
Since then, the IEEE, Internet Engineering Task Force, and Metro Ethernet Forum have leveraged MPLS work with new interfaces for a variety of private-line and private-LAN services using Ethernet framing. As the market has shifted to emphasize "Ethernet everywhere," so has Tpack.
In mid-2002, the company completed a $5.5 million venture capital round, and last fall hired Soren Stovring-Hallsson as its new chief executive, to focus on providing deliverables in both silicon and services.
Hansen, who has worked with the European operations of LSI Logic Corp. and Intel Corp., said the company is well versed in Sonet/SDH encapsulation, but the engineering talent is weighted to IP switching from the LAN world. For cost-effective use of Ethernet framing at the network edge, it is best to design for the cost constraints prevalent in the LAN hub world, he said.
The centerpiece of Tpack's proprietary technology is a single-chip family of switch engines called Broadway, and an MPLS mapping engine called Norton. Stovring-Hallsson said that while Tpack is prepared to offer stand-alone chipsets for OEMs well versed in MEF and MPLS/Frame Relay Alliance standards, the company prefers to work as a tightly knit design team for a system developer, since proprietary implementations at the module and board levels often are necessary for optimal system design.
The claim to fame of the Broadway switch is delivery of what Tpack calls "burstable Ethernet" services, which include the E-Line and E-LAN standards from the MEF; VPLS and IPLS services based on MPLS, as specified by the IETF; and standard 802.3 IEEE Ethernet service.
The Norton port-mapping chip, used in conjunction with Broadway, allows services to be mapped using the Martini draft extensions to MPLS. Hansen said Norton represents the roots of Tpack, since the company started business designing ICs for MPLS mapping. The addition of Broadway switching, however, takes Tpack into the realm of aggregating multiple Ethernet, IP, and Sonet/SDH services.
Completing the suite are two software packages that Tpack customizes for partners: the Paxford middleware for integrating network management systems, and the Cookhill device-driver firmware.
At last June's Supercomm show in Atlanta, Tpack demonstrated the integration of four E-LAN and three E-line services as seven separate applications, all with unique Peak Information Rate and Constant Information Rate parameters defined. Each application is defined as a private virtual switch, with Broadway serving as the core engine that assigns each service to a port.
In the demonstration, applications such as Yahoo Instant Messenger, streaming video, Webcam video, voice-over-IP telephony, and Ethernet test-equipment traffic generation, were running simultaneously.
Tpack uses Generic Framing Protocol as an encapsulation method to translate Virtual LAN-tagged Ethernet packets to MPLS-labeled frames.
The company plans to provide initial modules to several network equipment vendors this fall.