Grand Junction Vets Go Greenfield

Here's a trip down memory lane: Remember Grand Junction Networks? No, not Grand Funk Railroad. Grand Junction Networks.

Acquired by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) in 1995 -- before Cisco acquisitions became as frequent as Law and Order reruns -- Grand Junction's team produced Ethernet switches including the Catalyst 2900 and 3550 product lines.

Now four members of the team have founded Greenfield Networks to tackle the chip side of the equation. The company announced its chips today, all of which are shipping. The set targets Gigabit Ethernet speeds but packs features such as MPLS capabilities, IPv6 routing, and Layer 3 VPN support per RFC 2547bis. The result is something between a Gigabit Ethernet switch chip and a network processor (see Greenfield Intros GigE Switch Chips).

Greenfield's founders include VP of engineering Kamran Torabi and CTO Harish Devanagondi from the chip side and Rich Heaton and Harish Belur from the software side. To run everything, they recruited CEO Gary Smerdon, who formerly ran marketing for Marvell's Gigabit Ethernet division.

Greenfield has received two funding rounds of $13 million each, the latest being last July. Investors include Global Catalyst Partners, Sequoia Capital, and Walden International Investment Group. Its staff includes 40 in the United States and 10 in India.

It's tempting to lump Greenfield's products with Gigabit Ethernet switch chips produced by the likes of Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL). But that group has kept a Layer 2 focus. "To this point, they have not significantly penetrated into the market for these high-performance, high-availability switches. Those have been primarily ASIC-based," Smerdon says.

To be fair, Broadcom and Marvell have concentrated their Gigabit Ethernet efforts on the higher-volume enterprise realm. "VPN and MPLS functionality are for the metro. We don't see any enterprise customers needing that," says Martin Lund, senior director of enterprise networking for Broadcom.

Still, Smerdon thinks the Gigabit Ethernet players will end up adopting more Layer 3 types of features in order to serve higher-end enterprise systems. "The market is moving towards feature-rich switches. That's what IT managers need to run a network," he says.

If Greenfield's silicon doesn't fully compete with Gigabit Ethernet chips, it certainly seems to tread on network processor territory. But network processors, which tend to be built for flexibility, could prove expensive for the kinds of fixed-function boxes Greenfield targets. "Network processors tend to come in when the customers are really unsure about what they may need to support in the field," CTO Devanagondi says.

Being more sophisticated than a Layer 2 switch chip, Greenfield's hardware is also more complex. The company's offering consists of three chips. The G525 "packet engine" does most of the protocol work for up to 16 Gbit/s worth of traffic. Multiple G525s can connect to the G750 switching chip, which has 32 Gbit/s of switching capacity.

A third chip, the G120, is an optional multiplexer that can sit on linecards to aggregate up to eight lines of Gigabit Ethernet.

The G525 and G750 chips each cost $495 in small quantities; pricing for the G120 wasn't available at press time.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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