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Ample Eyes TCP Apps

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
7/27/2005

It's the Transport Control Protocol (TCP) next for Ample Communications Inc., apparently.

Founded as an OC768 chip vendor, Ample has developed Ethernet MAC chips and network interface cards (NICs) in order to keep the revenues flowing. Ample has been emphasizing that business lately, yesterday announcing a partnership with Cavium Networks Inc. to add security chips to the NICs (see Ample Secures Its NICs).

The next move for Ample will be into TCP processing according to Mat Steinberg, Ample's director of business development, who says products could be unveiled by year's end, although Ample isn't giving specifics yet. "We've got some work that's ongoing for additional packet processing," Steinberg says.

Should TCP offload be Ample's target, the company would be joining a host of competitors including Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), which picked up some TCP capabilities with last week's acquisition of Siliquent Technologies Ltd. (see Broadcom Takes 10-Gig Shortcut).

The Ethernet business, meanwhile, has sustained Ample while it waits for 40-Gbit/s networks to sprout.

"With Ethernet, you typically see a faster time to revenues" than with Sonet (Synchronous Optical NETwork) and SDH (Synchronous Digital Hierarchy), Steinberg says. "Most of our business is being driven by Ethernet." (See Ample Hits 100K and Ample Intros Ethernet Cards).

Competition is heating up, though. Ample's chosen sector of Ethernet is an aggregation chip that sits near the ports of an Ethernet switch. This is different from the switching chip itself, which sits at the heart of the system and is provided by the likes of Broadcom and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL).

Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) offers its VSC7324 to compete with Ample's Harrier-24 in this space. And startup Cortina Systems Inc. put in its own entry yesterday, a chip called Barcelona (see Cortina Debuts GigE Chip).

Cortina claims it's got one-up on Ample, in fact. The key is buffer space -- the memory pool where packets can wait if too much traffic arrives or if other packets should take priority. Lots of buffer lets enterprises overprovision an Ethernet switch, assigning more than 1 Gbit/s of bandwidth to each Gigabit Ethernet port on the assumption that not all users will need bandwidth at once.

Cortina claims it can support 5.3 Mbytes of memory per Gigabit Ethernet port versus Ample's 38 Kbytes per port. "We look at this as being a full-featured device in terms of where the industry is going in class of service [COS] and overprovisioning," says Jim McKeon, product manager for Cortina.

Ample counters by noting that buffer space adds to the expense of a chip. "One of the challenges is beating the cost targets people expect in the Ethernet market. As you add pins to a chip [to accommodate more off-chip buffer memory], that really adds to the cost," Steinberg says.

Back to OC768
None of this means Sonet is out of the picture for Ample. In fact, Ample reaffirmed a 40-Gbit/s partnership with Big Bear Networks earlier this year (see Ample, Big Bear Partner for 40-Gig and Ample, Big Bear Team on 40-Gig). "We still are servicing design wins on our Sonet products," Steinberg says.

Ample arrived on the scene in 2001 with Blackbird, the 40-Gbit/s chip, and followed up with a 2.5- and 10-Gbit/s chip called Nighthawk. The company does have some Ethernet credentials, as founder and chairman Vish Akella was a founder of Kalpana, the first Ethernet switch vendor and eventual acquisition target of (See Ample Crams in the Ports and Agere Unveils 'Universal' Framer.)

Akella was also a founder of Acclaim Communications, acquired by Level One Communications, which subsequently was acquired by That made it tempting in 2001 to think Akella might pull a hat trick and get Ample bought up too -- a factor that helped the chip startup make Light Reading's Top Ten Private Companies in 2002.

Alas, Ample's stay on the list was short, and the company has long since been replaced by a new clutch of startups. You can view the latest list, updated earlier this month, here.

Ample has raised $53 million since being founded in August 2000. Its most recent funding was a $15 million round in February 2004 (see Ample Communications Raises $15M).

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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