AUSTIN, Texas Agere Inc. has sent a proposal to many of its network-processor competitors, as well as to communication industry OEMs and network software developers, proposing the creation of a Network Processor Standards Organization (NPSO). The company has registered a domain name, www.npstandards.org, and wants to have a founding meeting in or near San Jose, Calif. in July or August.
Two factors could give tentative members pause: as a startup promoting its own "Payload Plus" architecture, Agere may have trouble wooing its direct competitors like C-Port Inc., Sitera Corp. and Softcom Microsystems Inc. The charter for the NPSO also overlaps with the Common Switch Interface Consortium (CSIX) founded by Xaqti Corp. and Power X Ltd.
Jeremey Donovan, semiconductor senior analyst at Gartner Group/Dataquest Inc., said that both elements are enough to make an outsider skeptical, but neither factor is a show-stopper. PMC-Sierra Inc. (Burnaby, British Columbia) bore the brunt of skepticism in the early 1990s when it created the Saturn Development Group for ATM system development, Donovan said, but the organization ended up being very successful. CSIX is winning converts as well, he said, though it was viewed as a Xaqti-only project last fall.
Donovan said that Agere should consider a merger or joint effort with CSIX, and should also consider changing the organizational name to emphasize "communication processors." Some architectures, like those of T.Sqware Inc., are oriented more to communication aggregation than packet-processing in a network, and Donovan suggested the concept of "network processor" may be too limited.
Bob Bridge, vice president of marketing at Agere (Austin, Texas), said that he hopes to work out a relationship with CSIX members to delineate functions. While CSIX looks at processor-to-switch interfaces at physical and network layers in the protocol stack, the primary goal of NPSO is to develop benchmarks for performance, including assigning a test lab for processor benchmarking, making the organization similar in part to what Systems Performance Evaluation Council did for general-purpose microprocessors.
Another important goal for NPSO is to bring standardization to programming languages and application programming interfaces, he said. While this may encourage the participation of software stack developers like Harris & Jeffries Inc. or Trillium Digital Systems Inc., it also could go against the interests of some processor developers like C-Port, who hope to make their development environment a key value-added feature of their architecture.
"We obviously gain some credibility for own company in launching this effort, but the obvious payoff we think many vendors will support is the establishment of good benchmarks for performance," Bridge said.