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Netronome's Soft Side

Craig Matsumoto
5/27/2009

4:45 PM -- Netronome is officially in the network processor game today, having launched its NFP line -- the successor to the Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) IXP family. (See Netronome Intros Net Processors.)

We'd first reported on this earlier in the month. The deal is that Intel has ceded its high-end network processor business to Netronome, which is trying to expand the chips' market while preventing competitors from sniping away at Intel's design wins. (See Netronome Reigniting Intel's IXP.)

The basic hardware is as Netronome described earlier. The chips carry 16 to 40 processor cores and target bidirectional 10-Gbit/s traffic handling.

What's more important might be the difference on the software side. The IXPs were notoriously difficult to program -- you worked in assembly rather than in C, and getting the processor cores to operate in harmony was hard, or so I'd been told.

Now, part of Netronome's earlier business model had been to preprogram the popular protocols and applications for IXP-based cards, so that systems vendors could more easily get what they wanted out of the chips. So, part of Netronome's pitch is its library of prefab source code, which can be taken straight or accessed via application programming interfaces (APIs). And yes, you can program the chips in C now.

One of Intel's supposed advantages over network processor competitors was that its chips had the flexibility of regular microprocessors, but the programming was challenging enough that Intel sometimes had to provide software engineers along with the chips. Netronome originally made a business out of letting appliance vendors avoid all that programming; we'll see if it's enough to keep the IXP audience interested, considering the chips spent a couple of years in stasis before now.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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