Internet Machines Takes Aim at Zettacom

The startup is about to announce a trio of chips that will compete with rival Zettacom's product

September 7, 2001

4 Min Read
Internet Machines Takes Aim at Zettacom

On Monday (10 September) Internet Machines Corp. plans to unveil a trio of chips that could give rival startup ZettaCom Inc. serious pause for thought.

Comparisons between the two companies seem justified. Both are making a big deal out of offering a package of chips that will help vendors of multiservice provisioning platforms (MSPPs) speed up their time to market considerably (see Zettacom: Hurry Up and Wait).

The package is based around a network processor chip, a traffic manager chip and a switch fabric. Using only these three types of chip, it is possible to build a system that supports any kind of traffic, whether circuit, cell or packet-based, both vendors claim.

Internet Machines will be revealing details of its products for the first time next week. The first member of the product family to ship will be the SE200. This is an OC192 (10 Gbit/s) fabric that supports 16 ports of OC192 traffic, and scales to 64 ports using multiple chips. It is priced at $2,975 in production quantities, and will be available before the end of the year.

This is where differences between the two companies start to become apparent. Zettacom's switch chip only supports 4 ports of OC192, giving it one quarter of the density of Internet Machines' product. "It would take Zettacom 20 chips to provide the functionality of one SE200 chip," claims Chris Hoogenboom, Internet Machine's founder, president and CEO.

As an aside, Zettacom sells its switch fabric, called ZEST-200, as multiple chips grouped together. The "200" in the two part numbers do not indicate products of equal bandwidth.

The other two chips from Internet Machines are the network processor, NPE10, and traffic manager, TMC10. Both support full-duplex OC192 wire-speed processing. That capability sets Internet Machines apart from the crowd, says Hoogenboom.

It's worth pointing out that Zettacom also claims to support full-duplex OC192 at wire speed, but only for simple layer 2-4 switching and routing. That's probably because its network processor is "configurable" rather than "programmable". In other words, Zettacom's chip is based around hardwired functions rather than microprocessor cores that carry out instructions.

Paul Liesenberg, Zettacom's company's VP of strategic marketing says that the decision to offer simple packet forwarding only is a sensible one. "Let's face it, not every core and edge router will be doing deep-packet-lookup based routing -- not now, not ever." Concentrating on the more predictable forwarding functionality makes it possible to achieve wire speed far more cheaply, he adds.

What's more, it doesn't force the company to go head to head with the gorillas in the network processor space, such as IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) "Standing straight in the path of the proverbial 800-lbs gorilla trying to steal its favorite banana is not a wise idea for a start-up."

Liesenberg also points out that Zettacom is further along in its development, which is not something to be sniffed at. It is "the first and only company to deliver a true 10Gbit/s traffic manager and switch fabric to real paying customers," he claims. Zettacom's network processor is still under development, but should be sampling early in 2002 (see ZettaCom Advances With ZEST (& ZEN)).

Hoogenboom concedes that the above comparisons are not entirely fair since Zettacom has product and Internet Machines does not. "They chose a much lower level of performance and integration for their first products than we did, and it has enabled them to introduce a lower performance product sooner," he notes. "I look forward to seeing their next generation products."

Internet Machines is bit cagey about when it will start sampling its traffic manager and network processor chips. At first Hoogenboom didn't want to give a date, but when pressed he plumped for "early next year".

Comparisons aside, there are some more pressing questions to ask Internet Machines, says Linley Gwennap, principle analyst with The Linley Group. "Can chips handle real-world workloads at 10Gbps? Can the startup deliver three complex chips on schedule? And can it outsell established networking giants such as Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR), Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC), and Intel."

Internet Machines recently received $41 million in funding, lead by Exar Corp. (Nasdaq: EXAR) (see Exar Teams Up on 10-Gig Chips).

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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