Bay Joins the Big Leagues
The other two vendors that say they're shipping 10-gig processors are Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC) and startup Terago Communications Inc. (see AMCC Ships 10-Gbit/s Processor and Terago Springs a Surprise).
Bay got silicon back from the foundry around March 25, according to its senior VP of sales and marketing Chuck Gershman. Since then, it has run a full suite of functional tests on the chip, he says, and is shipping the first samples today, Friday. It plans to announce this on Monday (15 April).
Note that doing "functional tests" is not the same as running applications on the chip. "First you have to characterize what you have, so that if an anomaly occurs, it's easy to debug it," Gershman explains. " So we went through all the resources in the chip, to see that each one responds appropriately. We are ready to start application testing immediately."
Bay didn't give the name of the customer receiving these early samples. But separately, it will reveal that Village Networks Inc. has committed to using the product, dubbed Montego (a reference to Montego Bay in Jamaica, not the Austin Montego, an ugly old rust box of a 1980s UK car.)
With this news, Bay gains a first-mover advantage over other vendors in the same space. But will that be enough? So asks RHK Inc. analyst Russell Johnson.
Bay can be commended for sticking to its product schedule, he says, unlike many others that have slipped behind (see PMC-Sierra Pulls Packet Silicon). But the marketplace remains very crowded nonetheless.
Although only two vendors are shipping products now, it's likely that several more will be ready to go soon, including EZchip Technologies and Xelerated AB (see 10-Gig Processors Shape Up). Furthermore, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), which is taking an aggressive stance on network processors, is expected to dominate when it enters the market later this year (see Intel: The Prince of Processors?).
"The big guys will win the game," says Russell. In his view, that leaves all the startups in a supporting role -- they will only survive if they can find a niche to play in. "There's nothing specifically wrong with [Bay]. But is its product really different from others? When its time-to-market advantage is eroded, then what has it got?"
Bay counters that the importance of being first to market shouldn't be underestimated. "There's a lot of hype about the large number of vendors coming to the market," says Gershman. "But we've seen a lot of them back off, hiding behind the fact that the market isn't ready. Probably the real reason is that they are struggling to make it work."
And, naturally, Bay claims that its product is good enough to compete with the established players.
Compared to AMCC, Bay claims to perform better both in terms of chip real estate and electrical power consumption. A full-duplex 10-Gbit/s solution requires six chips from AMCC, but only two from Bay, according to Gershman. Bay keeps the chip count down, he says, because its chip is designed to perform traffic management as well as classification and policing. Many other vendors, including AMCC, share those functions over two chips.
Bay also makes a big deal out of the fact that its architecture is deterministic, meaning that the length of time it takes to process each packet can be predicted. This is an important factor in being able to guarantee packet processing at full line rate, it claims.
"The key thing is that we should be evaluated," says Gershman. "We need to overcome the incumbents' status, and get our toe in the door." This is happening, he contends -- a small footprint and low power consumption are compelling enough advantages to get the startup past this first hurdle.
Indeed, Gershman claims that Bay has signed customers that evaluated its chip alongside AMCC's. It claims to have signed six in total, as well as 12 "handshake" agreements, a mutual understanding that if the chip performs as advertised, then the vendor will be keen to deploy it.
Things might get more interesting for Bay when Swedish network processor startup Xelerated pops up on the scene. Xelerated is due to "tape out" -- get its final design to the foundry -- this month, according to RHK's Johnson.
Xelerated is probably Bay's closest competitor in terms of the chip concept -- both companies use what's called a pipelined architecture, which is what provides the deterministic performance (see Swedes Claim Processor Advance). Gershman has his own take on the comparison: "We're not like Xelerated. They are like us, because we thought of it first." The key point about Xelerated, however, is that it is targeting throughputs twice as fast as Bay.
Bay recently closed a $17 million second round of funding, led by Thomas Weisel Venture Partners. Selby Venture Partners, Alliance Ventures, and Needham Capital also participated. It has raised $26 million to date.
— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading