LAS VEGAS ( ChipWire)-- IBM Corp.'s newly reorganized communications group will make a run for the emerging network processor arena at NetWorld+Interop this week with a slate of new partnerships and development tools backing the group's PowerPC-based Power Network Processor (PNP). The company also promised to leverage its silicon germanium and other semiconductor technologies to be a full-line communications-chip provider.
Alcatel SA and Asante Networks Inc. said they will tap IBM's PNP processors and other network silicon in future products. Separately, IBM has developed an application programming interface (API) for its parts based on the Open IP Environment of Nortel Networks Corp., which was previously available on Motorola's PowerPC-based parts.
IBM is moving into production with both the Rainier PNP, which combines a PowerPC with multiple "PicoProcessors," and a lower-end processor for networked resources. The company also is aiming specific spins of the embedded PowerPC, such as the new 440, at communication applications.
IBM's microelectronics and systems groups dedicated to OEM designs have undergone a major consolidation and facelift. Christine King, vice president for wired communications for IBM's operations in East Fishkill, N.Y., now heads up four major operations serving communications: the custom logic and ASIC groups; the network processor families including Rainier and PowerPC operations; the switching fabric and transport business units, which include framers, transceivers and optoelectronic products stemming from IBM's Gigabit Ethernet efforts; and a service, support and software group.
The intent is obvious. IBM wants to create an end-to-end expertise in communication ICs, spanning physical-layer transmission for both copper and fiber, and extending all the way up to higher-layer packet analysis that probes headers and payloads up to the application layer.
The strategy will involve taking full advantage of IBM's process initiatives in copper interconnect and silicon germanium (SiGe) layering for high-speed interfaces. It also will leverage optical interface technologies for more direct application into next-generation semiconductor integration.
"We think two of our strong abilities lie in optical and electronic integration, and in the ability to integrate advanced process technologies into products," King said.
To put more marketing muscle behind its reference platforms, IBM will come to the N+I show with an open API suite based on Nortel's Open IP Environment, now ported to the Power Network Processor.
Nortel announced its intent to take all Layer 2 through 4 routing and switching software public in late 1999. Nortel then made a push at Intel Corp.'s February developers' forum to offer Open IP on the Intel IXA and Motorola PowerPC and PowerQuicc architectures. Since IBM's multiprocessor PNP uses a PowerPC core, it's no surprise that IBM became the next licensee of the Open IP API software.
But open routing and switching software is only the first step, King said. IBM will show a variety of development boards using its network processor, and a software tool kit consisting of simulators,
debuggers, linkers and test procedures for use at customer sites.
IBM also will launch a network-processor-specific design service program at its Raleigh, N.C., site and other design centers. Many of those efforts will stress an OEM's ability to customize elements of the network processor, spotlighting the degree to which the standard product and ASIC groups will be working together.
King pointed to a new deal with Alcatel as evidence of the way IBM will encourage ASIC versions of its architectures. Alcatel has agreed to develop special core processors, based in part on SiGe process technology, for its next generation of intellectual property core routers. Dirk Van den Berghen, vice president of Alcatel data core activities, said that IBM was virtually the only vendor capable of scaling a processor and associated fabric and transceiver architecture to Sonet speeds of 10 and 40 gigabits per second.
All forwarding engines in future Alcatel router products will be based on the PNP, which combines a central PowerPC controller with up to 16 specialized packet-parsing engines.
Asante also plans to announce at N+I that it will use the IBM PNP and the associated Prisma switching fabric architecture from IBM in an upcoming IntraCore family of high-end routing switches.
The trump card IBM hopes to play in upcoming quarters is the ability to develop new designs for the physical layer. The designs will be for transport aggregation, similar to the type of "super-framer" products coming out of Lucent Microelectronics Inc., and very small form-factor optoelectronics devices, perhaps even on a common substrate with electronic transceiver components.
King said that IBM's work in Gigabit and 10-Gigabit Ethernet interfaces could be applied to new packet-over-Sonet fields, and that she has plans to pit a large family of physical-layer designs against the likes of Vitesse and AMCC.