Cable Tech

Can Traffic Managers Save the World?

Everybody likes to talk about network processors and switch fabrics, but it's the traffic manager -- the chip that sits between them -- that will drive carriers' growth in video and voice services.

That was the message of the Network Processors Conference keynote delivered yesterday by David Sonnier, chief technology officer of Agere Systems Inc.'s (NYSE: AGR.A) multiservice networking division.

Traffic Manager Chips apply QOS across a switch fabric, making sure priority traffic doesn't get delayed. Traffic management in edge/access boxes is crucial for making voice and video services work properly, and it could also drive down the costs of both, Sonnier said.

Ergo, better traffic management creates better real-time services, which means new revenues for carriers. "To renew growth for service providers, we need efficient traffic management," Sonnier said.

Having just visited a series of Asian DSLAM (DSL access multiplexer) vendors, Sonnier chose DSLAMs as an example during a Light Reading interview after his talk. DSLAMs can handle video, but only for small numbers of subscribers. If even 10 percent of subscribers start using video services, the DSLAM gets overwhelmed, he said.

A traffic manager would help by shuffling data into thousands of queues for prioritization, distinguishing the most urgent flows from those that are lower priority.

Newer DSLAMs are taking this kind of granular QOS into consideration even if vendors aren't sure they'll need it. "You've got to have it now, because there's a real fear that in a couple of years it's going to get turned on," Sonnier says. "We're seeing DSLAM vendors going from being 10-to-1 oversubscribed to not being oversubscribed at all and demanding high-end ATM kinds of QOS."

Naturally, Agere makes traffic manager chips, as do Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC), Azanda Network Devices, Internet Machines Corp., Mindspeed Technologies Inc., Sandburst Corp., Teradiant Networks Inc., and ZettaCom Inc.. In addition, EZchip Technologies and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) are developing traffic-manager chips meant to be add-ons to their network processors (see EZchip Ships Traffic Manager and Motorola Stuck on C-Port). Bay Microsystems Inc. integrates a traffic manager into its network processor but doesn't offer a separate traffic manager.

In an NPC session today, Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) will explain its home-grown 10-Gbit/s traffic manager while Altera Corp. (Nasdaq: ALTR) will argue that a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) can do the trick.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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