AMCC Introduces Columbia Chips
The Columbia product family is aimed at juicing up the performance and reducing the cost of multiservice switches and routers. All the chips in the family support both ATM and packet-over-Sonet, allowing them to carry both packets and TDM-based network traffic.
According to Stephane Bellosguardo, product marketing manager for AMCC's framer product division, the "something special" is integration. Essentially, Columbia collapses four or more chips, along with their associated glue logic, into a single chip that spans the space between the optics and a network processor.
Integration is touted by every chip vendor under the sun, but that's because it really is a big deal for systems vendors. More integration means lower power consumption, less real estate used on a line card, and lower overall cost of parts. It also equates to lower development costs and faster time to market, because it eliminates the effort of ensuring that different chips have compatible interfaces and then routing the traces between them.
AMCC's new product family comprises three independent chips: Columbia 16 x 12, which addresses line speeds of OC3 (155 Mbit/s) or OC12 (622 Mbit/s); Columbia 4 x 48, which processes four ports of OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s), and Columbia 192, which handles a single port of OC192 (10 Gbit/s).
The first two members of the product family also include SerDes (serialiser-deserialiser) and CDR (clock and data recovery) functions, allowing them to be connected directly to high-speed serial optics, rather than the more expensive transponders, which have parallel electrical connections. (The 10-Gig chip does not have this feature, because routing 10-Gbit/s signals on a line card can lead to electromagnetic interference problems.)
Already one of the big players in the market for physical layer and framer chips, AMCC hopes that today's announcement will help it maintain that position. But competition is fierce, and startups such as Ample Communications Inc., which introduced its products last week, could be eating into AMCC's lunch.
Ample's story appears similar to AMCC's, and there is some product overlap -- Ample's Skyhawk chip, for instance, appears to compete directly with AMCC's Columbia 192 chip (see Ample Crams in the Ports). These are among the first chips on the market that can handle both the 10-Gig Ethernet LAN PHY standard as well as the 10-Gig Ethernet WAN PHY version.
Of course, there are differences. AMCC claims that the integration of SerDes and CDR with a framer is unique, and indeed Ample does not offer this function. Furthermore, AMCC's product family includes a chip that addresses line speeds of OC3 (155 Mbit/s) and OC12 (622 Mbit/s) -- something that Ample hasn't gotten around to doing yet. Ample, on the other hand, has a chip that handles OC768 (40 Gbit/s), as well as one that accommodates four ports of OC192.
Many, including (and especially) AMCC, would argue that comparing a startup to an established vendor is hardly fair. "This is our third generation [of framers]," says Amit Bannerjee, AMCC's director of marketing. "We think we're in a different league to startups." He argues that AMCC has long-standing experience in the physical layer, framing, and mapping functions, and getting any one of these right the first time is not easy. It's expecting a lot for a startup to optimize all these different functions in its first-generation product.
Ample's VP of marketing, Marek Tlalka, responds by pointing to the fact that the company is claiming upwards of 20 design wins for its chips. AMCC, he contends, is particularly good at offering high-speed devices, but its architecture won't allow it to scale easily to higher port counts, as Ample's will.
Other competitors in the framer space are Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR), Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX) through its acquisition of Catamaran, and PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS).
AMCC's Columbia product family will begin sampling to development partners in the fourth quarter of 2002, with general availability slated for the first quarter of 2003.
— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading