SAN MATEO, Calif. An Intel Corp. spin-off is using reprogrammable hardware to tackle the Extensible Markup Language (XML)-processing and virus-detection markets, both of which require deep inspection of incoming packets.
Launching Monday (Aug.19), Tarari Inc. (San Diego) is not chasing the same market as network processors, which tend to concentrate on the headers of Internet Protocol packets. Tarari's chips would handle so-called Layer 7 processing, which refers to the application layer atop the Open Systems Interconnect reference model. Layer 7 information includes the actual data being sent the content of a Web page, for example.
Some network processors can tap Layer 7 information, but primarily for classification duties. Tarari officials say their hardware targets more complex functions specifically, XML processing and virus detection both of which require detailed examination of a packet's payload.
Those functions can be handled in software, but only at limited speeds.
"Your standard [anti-virus] appliances are limited right now to about 5 to 10 Mbits/second," said Dave Finlay, Tarari vice president of sales and marketing. Tarari's hardware, by contrast, has approached 1-Gbit/second speeds in tests, he said.
Similar ideas are being touted in network security, where startups are developing dedicated hardware for traditionally software-based products such as firewalls.
Tarari's products revolve around the content processing engines, FPGA-based devices created with help from Xilinx Inc. The processing engines are controlled by a Content Processing Controller, an ASIC designed by Tarari. The processing engines implement algorithms in hardware, altering their logic as dictated by the processing controller.
Finlay: Tarari's hardware has approached 1 Gbit/s.
The key was to exploit the speed of running algorithms in hardware, while avoiding the rigidity of ASICs, said chief executive officer Randy Smerik. To further boost speed, the processing engines use a parallel pipelined structure to process multiple payload segments simultaneously.
Smerik chose to spin out the 37-person company because its mission differed so much from Intel's. Conceived as part of Intel's traffic management research, Tarari hardware is "a little bit higher-level and not as specific in terms of implementations" compared with other Intel chips, he said. As a result, Smerik was concerned the company might not receive the resources it needed, particularly on the marketing side. "Within a larger company, you're always fighting for shelf space," he said.
He took his case to Intel management, which agreed to let Tarari spin off. All of Tarari's $13 million in funding comes from venture capital firms Crosspoint Venture Partners (Woodside, Calif.) and XML-Fund (Bellevue, Wash.). Intel contributed no money but took a minority stake in Tarari in exchange for the Intel intellectual property transferred to the startup.
Tarari's first products will be complete PCI boards, which represented the company's fastest way to garner OEM interest, Smerik said. He said the response among OEMs has been enthusiastic but wouldn't say whether any customers have committed to purchase the products.
Tarari's virus-detection boards are due to ship in the fourth quarter of 2002, with XML-processing boards to follow in the first quarter of 2003.