Traffic Managers Ready for Commute
Today, Teradiant announced sampling of two traffic manager families, the first chips to ship from the startup. Azanda, meanwhile, has its own reason to smile, having gotten permission to announce it's working with Korean OEM LG Electronics Inc. (see Teradiant Debuts Traffic Managers and LG Picks Azanda Traffic Management).
Traffic Manager Chips help enforce QOS, usually by separating traffic into queues depending on priority. It's the kind of function that could be coupled with other chips. In fact, most of the traffic managers on the market are sold by companies that provide switch fabric chips as well.
Until now, Azanda was the only company offering a traffic manager chip without an accompanying network processor or switch fabric. Most traffic managers were conceived as part of a package deal, available as a separate part but usually intended to work in conjunction with the chip vendor's switch fabric. That's the strategy pursued by the likes of Internet Machines Corp., Sandburst Corp., Silicon Access Networks Inc., and ZettaCom Inc.
In other cases, network processor vendors have designed traffic managers specifically for their own chips. EZchip Technologies and Motorola Computer Group have taken that route (see EZchip Ships Traffic Manager and Motorola Intros Access Chip).
Teradiant was among that number, too, having completed development of a network processor. But that chip is being put on ice, given the tough market and the fact that customers seem more interested in traffic managers, says Subhash Bal, Teradiant vice president of marketing.
The hope for Azanda and Teradiant is that OEMs will opt for best-of-breed components. The concept would be aided by the standard interfaces being developed by the Network Processing Forum (NPF). "This is a mix-and-match game," Bal says.
One factor in Azanda and Teradiant's favor is that switch fabric vendors have had trouble breaking into designs. OEMs typically won't need a new switch fabric unless they're designing a new box from scratch, which hasn't been happening frequently (see ZettaCom Lands $19M).
Possibly as a result, traffic manager competition hasn't been fierce from the switch-fabric crew. "Our most serious competition still comes from internal ASIC development," says Greg Wolfson, vice president of Azanda.
The threat of integration still lingers, however, as some vendors are absorbing the function of traffic managers into network processors. Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A) did this with its most recent network processor revision (see Agere Ships Single-Chip NPU). And Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) expects to do the same.
"We look at [traffic management] as primarily a software problem," says Frank Schapfel, Intel marketing manager for OEM business development. "Long-term, there's a tremendous amount of value to having the traffic manager embedded in the network processor. If you can get the job done in a single piece of silicon, you should."
It's important to note that Azanda and Teradiant target different markets. Azanda aims to handle high numbers of queues, particularly in ATM environments, while Teradiant concentrates on higher data rates and packet-oriented networks.
It's not surprising, then, that Azanda's first major design win is related to DSL. The company announced Monday that LG plans to use its chips in future multiservice switch/routers, "products they're planning on releasing in the not-too-distant future," Wolfson says.
LG's interest stems from Azanda's ability to handle ATM QOS. Wolfson says Korean service providers wanted to get better performance out of their OC12 networks, or even upgrade them to OC48, but without increasing the size or power of the equipment involved (or the cost, ideally).
Wolfson expects revenues from the partnership to ramp "fairly quickly" but wouldn't discuss numbers.
Teradiant, meanwhile, is sampling its first chips, the TM and TMS families. The difference is that the latter include the ability to switch traffic to different ports. The TMS chips don't have a switching element on board; rather, they move data through pools of shared memory that connect to every port.
The chips come in Ethernet and Sonet varieties, with aggregate capacities of up to 40 Gbit/s and port speeds up to 10 Gbit/s. Prices range from $645 to $1,645. Teradiant expects to start volume production in three to six months, Bal says.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading