"Network Processors: A Heavy Reading Competitive Analysis," released today, tallies the network processor market at $150 million for 2004. It's not an enormous figure, but it's a nice surge from $60 million in 2003, and it appears likely that the market will continue growing.
"With most [network processor] vendors reporting significant design wins, especially at 2.5-Gbit/s and below, the market will continue to grow through 2005," writes Simon Stanley, Heavy Reading analyst at large and the report's author.
A network processor is a linecard chip that digs into IP packets (or Ethernet packets or ATM cells) and extracts the key information needed to forward the packet to the proper destination. Systems vendors traditionally have built their own ASICs for this function. The point behind the network processor was to create an off-the-shelf alternative that could give the OEM a headstart.
Most OEMs resisted the idea at first, but the chips have elevated beyond niche status to a point where a "majority" of OEMs use them in at least one product, according to the report.
The original network processor business model was to target upstart equipment vendors, and to that end, it's no surprise that Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. has been using the devices (see Huawei Chip Deal: Who's Got It?). But other customers have included established names such as Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and even Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), according to the report. (Of course, Cisco projects such as the CRS-1 core router still rely on ASICs.)
Network processors are applicable to just about any type of equipment, but so far they've found the most use at the carrier edge, the report says. And while 10-Gbit/s parts are readily available, sub-2.5-Gbit/s applications still claim the largest share of per-port shipments.
The report covers four types of processors: 2.5-Gbit/s and 10-Gbit/s parts; control-plane processors; and communications processors. Vendors covered include:
- Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A),
- Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC),
- Bay Microsystems Inc.,
- Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM),
- Cavium Networks Inc.,
- EZchip Technologies,
- Freescale Semiconductor Inc.,
- Hifn Inc. (Nasdaq: HIFN),
- Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC),
- Mindspeed Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: MSPD),
- PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS),
- Raza Microelectronics Inc.,
- Sandburst Corp.,
- Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS),
- Wintegra Inc., and
- Xelerated Inc.
For further information, or to order the report, click here.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
Independent analyst John Metz, who was among the early believers in network processors, was recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer. A benevolent fund has been set up in John's name. Those interested in contributing may send checks to:
- John G. Metz Fund
c/o Crystal Cube Consulting
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