Gigabit Security's in the Chips
With security concerns on the rise, the race is heating up in the market for high-speed chips that secure data being sent over high-bandwidth connections.
Earlier this week, startup Cavium Networks announced it would be partnering with Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC) on development of its Nitrox and Nitrox II products, while another startup, Corrent Corp., announced it is sampling its CR7020 product. And yesterday a pioneer in the market, Hifn Inc., announced that engineering samples of its HIPP II are now available.
All three companies offer, or plan to offer, chips that process Internet protocol security (IPSec) and secure socket layer (SSL) technology at gigabit rates. IPSec secures tunnel creation, VPN establishment, and embedded encryption support, and is mostly limited to enterprise intranet. SSL designs access devices for businesses and residential clients that want secure Web transactions on the Internet.
“I think security processing is going to be the next hot area,” says Bob Merritt, director of emerging markets at Semico Research Corp. “If it’s not already on the top of everybody’s list, it will be over the next few quarters.”
Up until recently, however, the importance of security has not been as recognized as one might think. Network security concerns have often been lost in the wake of an ever-growing demand for high-speed network processing. When asked, most companies say they want their networks to be as secure as possible. But when push comes to shove, they just haven’t been willing to pay the price, either in dollars or in slower processing, often opting to secure only the most vulnerable areas of their networks, like their e-commerce and VPN portals.
“The problem till now has been that security chips take up a lot of cycles,” says Mark Gordon, Corrent’s vice president of marketing. “That can give you a bottleneck, which can really slow down your system. If you just accelerate the data, the processor has to worry about offloading.”
According to Sayed Ali, CEO of Cavium, security slows down the system because it deals with four major computer-intensive areas: authentication, confidentiality, integrity, and non-repudiation.
The solution, says Gordon, is moving such functions over to security-processing hardware. “Network processors are adding a lot to functionality,” he says. “That is absolutely critical at gigabit rates.”
Initial hardware solutions, however, have been very expensive and can only be deployed in key areas. However, as the competition in this area becomes tougher, observers say they expect prices to drop. In the first quarter of 2002, both Corrent and Cavium are planning to launch their security processing chips with prices as low as $295 per package. And in the second quarter, another startup, Layer N Networks Inc., will start shipments of its UltraLock; and Hifn will ship its HIPP chip for $275.
With prices coming down, observers say they should soon see affordable high-level security on every router and switch line card.
Regardless of the price, companies are starting to find that ignoring security can be far more costly than acquiring even high-cost devices.
And judging from the growing security market, that’s exactly what a lot of people are thinking these days. According to a study from Infonetics Research Inc., hardware systems and board sales are expected to grow from $2 billion in 2001 to $3.5 billion by 2004.
But even though the market is exploding, it's not clear how many players will survive. A growing number of companies have their eye on this market, says Gartner/Dataquest analyst Joseph Byrne. “The key takeaway is that this is a crowded market."
“It’s still too early to start picking winners in this game. I think the race is just starting,” says Semico's Merritt. “When bigger companies start buying up the companies doing this, that’s the point when everyone’s acknowledged the importance of this. We haven’t quite gotten there yet.”
Some other companies that play in this area are: Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and NetOctave Inc.
— Eugénie Larson, special to Light Reading