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Bay's ATM Chip Heads Into BattleBay's ATM Chip Heads Into Battle

The network-processor startup garners a federal government contract thanks to its high-speed SAR capability

November 14, 2002

4 Min Read
Bay's ATM Chip Heads Into Battle

An obsession with {doclink5488} technology is about to pay off for network processor vendor Bay Microsystems Inc., which has scored an unusual design win with the U.S. government.

Bay and its competitors tend to sell to equipment makers, not to network owners directly. But Hank Dardy, chief technical adviser for IT and computation at the U.S. Naval Research Labs, liked the fact that Bay's Montego chip incorporated a component called a SAR (Segmentation and Reassembly), something that's still a relative rarity at OC192 speeds.

The SAR isn't really as painful as it sounds. Basically, it helps take apart or put together ATM traffic streams. So it's required on either end of a transmision line. Bay's integrated network processor and high-speed SAR put it in an elite category of bulked-up, ATM-ready network chips.

The government's users -- including the Department of Defense and other agencies that Chuck Gershman, Bay CEO, was skittish about naming [ed. note: they'd have to kill him?] -- are on an ATM network that's being upgraded to OC192. Rather than switch to something like Internet Protocol (IP), the government is sticking with ATM, having enlisted General Dynamics Corp. to craft a proprietary security chip for ATM that handles encryption purely at Layer 1.

"They said they had been looking for something like this for the better part of a year. They were thinking it didn't exist," says Gershman.

Dardy confirms that he had been seeking the necessary pieces of the OC192 network. He also says that, while some companies -- like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) -- have their own ATM SARs at that speed, it appears no merchant chips other than Bay's fit the task.

Most network processors claim to have ATM support, but Bay looks to be on the cutting edge of OC192 capabilities. "Out of all of them, Bay has a very strong solution," says John Metz, president of consulting firm Metz International.

If Montego really is that good, it's because Bay emphasized ATM from the start, having never believed in the all-IP network. While most network processors were engineered with Internet Protocol in mind, Bay chose an approach that concentrated on multiservice networks and the existing ATM infrastructure.

"We just saw that this other model was there," Gershman says. No other network processor company seemed interested in ATM, except for Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR/A) -- the spinoff from Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) (see Lucent Christens Its Spinoff).

Given its goals, Bay needed to build a processor that could handle massively channelized traffic while keeping ATM circuits intact. As a result, Montego juggles thousands of queues based on destination. In contrast, Gershman says, an IP box might accommodate thousands of microflows but will send traffic to just a handful of "next-step" destinations.

Luckily for Bay, the legacy networks won out over the IP-based CLECs, creating unexpected demand for ATM and even Fibre Channel (see The New Legacy Network). That's brought ATM into the sights of larger network-processor players such as IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) (see S3 Adds ATM for IBM)

"Agere was one of the first ones to come out [with ATM support], and that was their strength," Metz says. "Now everybody is gunning for them."

Bay hasn't had an easy time of it. Bay missed its original target of mid-2001 (see Network Processors Proliferate), and the dramatic effort to finish its chip became the subject of a week-long feature series in the San Jose Mercury News. The first samples of Montego finally arrived last March (see Bay Joins the Big Leagues), and Bay was demonstrating OC192 capabilities by May.

Bay's win will also include a set of network-interface cards for connecting supercomputers directly to the ATM network, something that's easily crafted using the startup's existing technology, Gershman says. The government is even interested in seeing what Bay can do at OC768 (40 Gbit/s). "There is a strategic pull in certain organizations to move the technology forward, if you find the right people."

Bay will be giving a hint of its technology at SC2002, the supercomputing conference in Baltimore next week. The startup will be in the Marconi plc (Nasdaq/London: MONI) booth with an elaborate setup connecting SGI supercomputers to a Marconi ATM switch at OC192 speeds.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Want to know more? The big cheeses of the optical networking industry will be discussing multiservice switching at LightSpeed Europe. Check it out at http://www.lightspeedeurope.com.

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