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Comms chips

Intel Spinoff Targets XML, Viruses

Startup Tarari Inc. announced its first products this week, emphasizing extensible markup language (XML) processing and virus detection but leaving the door open for a host of other applications.

An Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) project that was set free by management, Tarari introduced itself and its Content Processing Controller chip to the world in August (see Intel Spins Off Tarari). In addition to its concentration on XML acceleration and virus detection, the company has enlisted Celoxica to help customers develop customized algorithms for other applications.

Tarari's Dec. 9 announcement included the launch of a development kit, a board that includes the CPC chip, Celoxica's programming tools, and a Xilinx Inc. FPGA (see Tarari Launches Content Processor).

The Content Processing Controller relies on two principles: the fact that hardware can run algorithms faster than software, and the age-old concept of delegation. The chip breaks a particular chunk of information -- a data packet, say -- into pieces that are forwarded to a set of processing engines that reside on a field-programmable gate array (FPGA), a blank-slate chip that can be programmed to handle arbitrary logic functions. The engines crunch the information in parallel to arrive at an answer quickly.

It's up to the OEM to program the CPC and the engines with algorithms -- "agents" in Tarari-speak -- to solve whatever problem is at hand. Pretty much any algorithmic problem suits the chip, so Tarari is placing its bets on two areas (XML and viruses) where the company will provide off-the-shelf algorithms for its hardware. "We wanted to offer a shrink-wrapped environment for people who wanted to just take the processors and go," CEO Randy Smerik says.

Users interested in tackling other problems can use the Celoxica tools to build the algorithms they need.

The product idea germinated among Intel engineers looking to do a traffic management device. Smerik saw wider potential, however, and successfully begged Intel's higher-ups to let his team break from the mother ship and create Tarari. Intel holds a minority stake but contributed no money to the startup's $13 million first round.

In its data-communications role, Tarari's chip won't be doing the actual processing of XML or the actual searching for viruses. Rather, it's going to be accelerating those functions. Smerik points out that the security market has a similar model, where chips to accelerate the SSL or IPSec protocols are available from several vendors, including Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), Cavium Networks, Corrent Corp., and Hifn Inc. (Nasdaq: HIFN).

That means Tarari doesn't quite compete with the "content switch" providers -- startups like DataPower Technology Inc., Forum Systems Inc., and Sarvega Inc. (see Sarvega Accelerates XML). Rather, Smerik says, those boxes would be potential users of Tarari's chips.

The CPC has uses outside of datacom as well, because it's theoretically a good engine for any type of high-speed computing. For example, Smerik says the petroleum industry has indicated interest in the chip to speed the number-crunching for analyzing geological and seismic data.

When Tarari launched in August, officials were predicting a fourth-quarter shipment for their first products. That's slipped to the first quarter of 2003, when the company expects to launch its virus-detection boards.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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