November 6, 2003
Chip vendor Sandburst Corp. is taking the network processor model into the low-cost Ethernet market, claiming to pack chassis-system features into commodity Ethernet switches.
The move makes Sandburst a bit of a rarity among the companies peddling network processors and high-end switch fabrics. Most of those vendors aren't targeting original design manufacturers (ODMs), a group that includes Taiwanese vendors that churn out low-cost Ethernet switches.
Sandburst this week teamed up with Accton Technology Corp. to create a platform called Metrobox. It's the same size of box that the ODMs sell – 24 Gigabit Ethernet ports and two 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports – but Metrobox adds Layer 2 and Layer 3 features such as support for Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and IPv6.
That makes Metrobox a higher-end system, a pint-sized version of the Catalyst 6500 from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Sandburst officials say. "It's going to be the first time a [system] of this capability is going to be available through an ODM channel," says Bruce Wolfeld, Sandburst product marketing manager.
The features come from Sandburst's HiBeam chip set, which includes a switch fabric, a traffic manager, and a network processor. Accton, which sells low-cost Ethernet switches, will build the box. It will then be marketed to systems vendors that can add their own software to complete the product. The resulting system could sell for around $20,000, Sandburst officials say.
Metrobox is too small to compete directly with the Catalyst 6500, but it could be a starting point for equipment vendors targeting metro Ethernet deployments, particularly in Asia.
The Ethernet market is commoditized to the point that chip firm Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) offers an entire Ethernet switch to ODMs (see Marvell's Ethernet Switch Kit). It's not the direction most vendors intended for their network processors, most of which were created with high-end routers in mind. "Our network processor offerings are more suited to more sophisticated systems," says Rob Munoz, product marketing manager for Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A).
Network processor firms just aren't ready to take Sandburst's "white box" approach. They're coming close – Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) plans to offer software kits for its IXP2400 and other network processors, and Agere sells completed line cards (see Intel's Net Processor Invasion and Agere Launches Line-Card Kits).
But those efforts fall short of the ODM model, where the chip vendor provides just about everything. "Even with all these off-the-shelf network processors and switch fabrics, you still have to know what you're doing to put it together," says Linley Gwennap, analyst with The Linley Group.
The ODM market is growing, though, so it's probably a matter of time before network processor vendors start releasing ODM-minded products. Agere executives have talked about releasing chips for extremely small DSLAMs, for example. "Those types of products we do see becoming highly commoditized, so the ODM model would be a good fit," Munoz says.
Agere, Intel, and other large companies already sell other chips into the low-cost Taiwanese market, so they've got an "in" should they decide to bring network processors there. Sandburst, which has no chips beyond HiBeam, had to spend the last three years cultivating its Taiwanese relationships (see, for instance, Sandburst Gets Asian Partner.
In that light, the deal with Accton is significant. It's vital to be known in Taiwan, because ODMs prefer to buy all their chips from one vendor. "That's the model they're used to for some of the enterprise switching vendors such as Broadcom and Marvell," says Ken Dennan, Sandburst director of marketing. "They're not going to take piece-parts from four different vendors."
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
Archives of Related Light Reading Webinars:
Switch Fabric Chipsets: The Core of Next-Gen Systems
Network Processors: Time to Buy?
Packet Switch Chipsets: Making the Connection
Traffic Managers: Delivering Quality of Service
Network Processors: Why, What, and When?
Related Light Reading Reports:
10-Gig Network Processors
Packet Switch Chips
Traffic Manager Chips
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