OC192 Processors: Who's First?
At the Network Processors Conference in San Jose, Calif., which started today, Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC) announced the commercial availability of its nP7510 network processor (see AMCC Adds to Chip Family).
Also, EZchip Technologies says it will be shipping its NP-1 network processor "very soon" (see EZchip Redoes It ).
Both companies separately confided to Light Reading that "according to Linley Gwennap [analyst with the Linley Group and program chair at the conference], we're going to be first on the market."
Gwennap concurs. "AMCC and EZchip seem to be neck and neck," he says. Who is actually first may be too close to call.
And about time too. It's taken so long for OC192 network processors to get close to being a commercial reality that some systems integrators have decided that the only way to get packet processing silicon fast enough for their needs was to develop their own ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits).
"When we began development of our system two years ago, there obviously weren't any OC192-capable network processors available or even on the roadmap, so we built our own," Doug Broad, public relations manager at Celox Networks wrote in an email to Light Reading. He claims that Celox already has an internally-developed OC192 network processor, codenamed BitRipper, up and working.
"BitRipper is currently passing packets inside our Celox SCx 192 IP service switch in AT&T's lab," says Broad. "We've got four other trials starting this month and expect general availability [of the switch] in Q4."
However, Celox's answer to OC192 packet processing looks a bit different from the single-chip solutions being developed by AMCC and EZchip. According to information on the company's Website, each card in the Celox platform uses a combination of BitRipper ASICs and off-the-shelf PowerPC microprocessors.
In some ways, its not surprising that it's taken so long to develop OC192 network processors. OC48 network processors are still in their infancy, and many can't maintain wirespeed when required to perform more functions per packet. Given that systems vendors want more functions per packet, and there's a fourfold jump in speed on top of that, the required performance increase is eightfold or more. In the PC world, CPU designers are lucky to double performance when they develop their next-generation devices.
In many cases, the required leap in performance has forced chip makers, both incumbents and startups, to go back to their drawing boards and come up with completely new architectures.
AMCC is particularly pleased that it's managed to scale its architecture up to OC192 data rates, says Robin Melnick, a director of product marketing at the company. "As a result, we'll be the first of the incumbents to get a 10-gig chip out the door," he contends. Some of the incumbents are behind AMCC by as much as 18 months because their designs didn't scale, he claims.
One chip vendor that isn't far behind is Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR), which expects to start sampling its OC192 network processor in Q1 2002, according to Robert Munoz, the company's product marketing manager for network processors. Agere is due to present the design of its NP10/TM10 chipset at the conference tomorrow.
A couple of startups also had announcements. Entridia Corp. introduced the "Rhapsody," actually an ASIC, rather than a software-programmable chip, but which nevertheless can handle a wide range of packet processing functions at full-duplex OC192 speeds (see Entridia Offers 'Rhapsody'). Rhapsody is also due to start sampling in Q1 2001.
In addition, Silicon Access Networks Inc. unveiled a packet processor that, rather unusually, is capable of full-duplex data rates of 20 Gbit/s (see Silicon Access Processes Packets). It's also claiming that it will start shipping the product in Q1 2002.
Other companies that did not make formal announcements but are rumored to be nearly ready with OC192 are rival startups Internet Machines Corp. and ZettaCom Inc. (see Internet Machines Takes Aim at Zettacom).
Even though there won't be much volume in OC192 packet processing for a while yet, vendors still feel compelled to show how they are going to reach OC192. Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) both shared their roadmaps at the show (see Motorola Has a Roadmap and Vitesse Gets Technical).
But AMCC's Melnick points out that it's not enough to be first with a network processor. "What matters most to customers is not a point product, but the whole product family," he says. Customers will want to buy not just a network processor, but a traffic manager and a switch fabric as well. That puts established companies like AMCC and Agere at an advantage, since they have a broader portfolio. It also complicates life for startups, which need to develop two or three complicated chips simultaneously, he says.
— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading