ATLANTA Alliances between semiconductor players to craft advanced Internet Protocol services were a central theme at NetWorld+Interop Fall this past week.
Acorn Networks Inc. (Reston, Va.), a company that developed traffic-management chips for the Naval Research Labs, offered its new GenFlow chip to the merchant market for the first time. Acorn is partnering with the likes of Fast-Chip Inc., Solidum Systems Inc. and SwitchOn Networks Inc. to ensure glueless interfaces to packet classifiers.
Mitel Semiconductor (Ottawa, Ontario) revealed the first fruits of its July acquisition of Vertex Networks Inc. (Irvine, Calif.), showing how Vertex's traffic-queuing architecture could work alongside Mitel's voice-over-IP client chip set, providing quality-of-service (QoS) prioritization for mixed data and voice service in the enterprise.
And Ishoni Networks Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.) laid out future plans for its broadband-gateway-on-a-chip architecture, describing how the iBEDx000 family of processors could be combined with open-security and firewall software to create multifunction DSL security and voice functions for home and small-business gateways.
The rollouts all came in a week during which PMC-Sierra Inc. (Burnaby, British Columbia) made its second major acquisition of a packet-classifier company with a $450 million grab for SwitchOn, augmenting its earlier purchase of Extreme Packet Devices Inc. Jeremy Bunting, communications IC analyst at Thomas Weisel Partners Inc., said that the remainder of the year will see a "land grab for enhanced packet services," with PMC-Sierra "in the forefront of that effort."
The chip activity at N+I centered on new services for Internet Protocoal (IP) networks, moving beyond the packet forwarding of the most recent generation of network processors. Packet classifiers, IP security processors and traffic managers for IP flows represent the next silicon front, where small players and newcomers rule.
At first, Mitel's decision to acquire Vertex might have seemed an odd fit. Vertex's initial success was as an Ethernet switch chip supplier in the enterprise, competing against companies like MMC Networks Inc. and Galileo Technology Inc. But Mitel's director of strategic marketing and business development, Mauricio Peres, said key customers had long told Mitel the company needed to expand its time-division-multiplexed base. Mitel began working with Vertex a year ago on the general packet-switching chip that became Cosmos.
At N+I, Vertex followed up Cosmos with a high-performance packet switch with fine-grained QoS queuing, the DS313, as well as a family of specialized enterprise packet switches optimized for voice-over-IP. Tim Thompson, director of marketing of the new Mitel Semiconductor VN division in Irvine, said that with the DS2600 voice-switching family, the company intended to offer a chip set that could support both data and prioritized voice in stackable packet switches appropriate for enterprise applications. Applications for the new family will include both integrated-access devices and multitenant/multidwelling-unit access platforms, Thompson said.
The Vertex architecture marries RISC-based controller engines with microcoded state machines to handle wire-speed packets at Sonet rates up to OC-192. Mitel brings to the architecture specialty blocks for voice support such as echo cancelers and TDM switches.
Acorn is focusing on packet-classifier links in its work with SwitchOn, Solidum and Fast-Chip. The GenFlow chip represents the company's third generation of traffic managers based on an ATM segmentation/reassembly core. Harry McLarnon, director of sales and marketing, said the traffic-management chip can handle any type of cell, packet or frame, managing multiple flows for traffic such as ATM, frame relay and packet over Sonet.
The chip provides queuing and traffic shaping independently for up to 64,000 flows, mapped to as many as 2,000 output queues.
Acorn's director of business development, Royal Collette, said that depending on the features implemented, the 900-pin device could be used in applications ranging from tera-routers in the core to T1/E1 aggregators on the edge of the network. The device even has an embedded 64 x 64 switch, so it can be used as a native switching fabric as well as a traffic shaper.
The GenFlow has taped out, and the company anticipates first samples in November.
Ishoni Networks, meanwhile, is looking for broader software support after recently inking a key DSL reference design pact with Infineon Technologies AG. Almost before the ink was dry, Infineon strategic marketer Martin Schenk left the company to take a job as director of strategic marketing at Ishoni, where he will seek higher-layer IP applications for the company's programmable core as well as look for additional physical-layer broadband networks to support following Ishoni's initial foray into DSL. Schenk joins a roster of carrier-oriented executives who have joined the young semiconductor player in recent weeks, including Greg Gum, formerly of US West Communications.
Deepak Satya, director of product marketing at Ishoni, said that attracting developers of prepackaged embedded software was key to the Broadband Engine family's success. Ishoni will begin with real-time kernels, spanning options from VxWorks to Nucleus. An array of codecs for packet voice support will come next, followed by possible deals for firewall functions and Internet Protocol Secure.
"The customer premises gateway will require a single-chip solution with full software functionality delivered with the silicon," Satya said. The toughest realm in which to build a residential gateway, he said, is cable modems. Satya has experience in the area, from his earlier work marketing Com21 cable modems, but he said Broadcom Corp.'s presence in transceiver designs makes it difficult to break into the market with a programmable architecture.