Lightstorm Charges Into Ethernet

Startup has developed and now launched a switch chip designed specifically for Carrier Ethernet requirements

September 25, 2007

4 Min Read
Lightstorm Charges Into Ethernet

Startup Lightstorm Networks is taking on some established chip giants with what it claims is the first switching chip built specifically for the Carrier Ethernet market. (See Lightstorm Chips at Ethernet.)

The company, formed in late 2004 with R&D facilities based in Ireland, is demonstrating its Brooklyn-10 chip at this week's Carrier Ethernet World Congress in Geneva before taking it to the Light Reading Ethernet Expo in New York in October.

VP of sales and marketing Wade Appelman claims the chip spanks the pants off rival Ethernet silicon that has been designed for the enterprise switch market. For example, he says his firm's 20-Gbit/s Ethernet (10 Gbit/s counted twice) device can support 40,000 VLANs and 128,000 MAC addresses, compared with the 4,000 VLANs and 16,000 MAC addresses that enterprise Ethernet silicon chips from the likes of Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) can support.

In terms of service features, the chip has been designed to support Carrier Ethernet standards such as virtual private LAN service (VPLS), virtual private wire service (VPWS), Pseudowires, and the operations and management standard known as connection fault management (CFM).

It also enables Provider Backbone Bridging (PBB) and the controversial pre-standards Ethernet technology Provider Backbone Transport (PBT), which is also known as Provider Backbone Bridging - Traffic Engineering (PBB-TE) in its ongoing standards process at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) .

But Lightstorm is also supporting Transport MPLS (T-MPLS), the MPLS-based alternative to PBT for simplified metro Ethernet transport.

Lightstorm's competition isn't limited to Ethernet chip players. Tpack A/S , for example, is making inroads with its software stacks that it supplies on field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). Appelman suggests that's a more costly approach to the market. Tpack, though, has products in the market and named customers. (See TPack Talks Ethernet, PBT Parties On, Meriton Tackles Ethernet Transport, and NEC Uses Tpack for 10 Gbit/s.)

Then there are the network processor competitors such as EZchip Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: EZCH) and Xelerated Inc. Appelman says an equivalent network processor would cost double Lightstorm's chip, and he claims there's a trade-off between service capabilities and processing power. Again, though, the competitors here are already established and have some major reference accounts already on board. (See EZchip Names Cisco, Juniper and Chip Fight! EZchip Takes on Xelerated, and Huawei Picks Xelerated.)

So where is Lightstorm, which has 40 staff and total VC funding of $21 million to date, positioned in the competitive mix?

Appelman says the company is supplying samples of its chip, which will sell for $250 per unit in volume shipments, to a few prospective customers. The company's initial target market is the optical transport sector, where vendors such as Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Transmode Systems AB , Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA), and Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR) are aiming to map Ethernet into WDM.

While Appelman declines to name any of Lightstorm's prospects, the company has had a close relationship with Nortel Networks Ltd. since the Canadian giant began promoting PBT in early 2006, and Lightstorm recently joined Nortel's Carrier Ethernet Ecosystem. (See Nortel Pushes PBT Pact, Nortel Launches PBT, and PBT Means What?)

Nortel has "shared its architecture for PBT and the requirements it has, so it's a good partner," Appelman says. "We have also talked to BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), which has been good at sharing its long-term planning around its use of PBT."

So has there been much demand for PBT? "Everyone wants to talk about it. What we find is that every major equipment vendor kicks the tires of new technologies. They're all asking about it -– there's tremendous interest," Appelman says. Actually turning on PBT features in a Lightstorm chip would be "something that would happen in the future, he adds, noting that the same situation applies to T-MPLS.

Initial demand, he believes, will be focused on the chip's scaleability, and its support for standards such as CFM and VPLS.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to Ethernet Expo 2007, a conference and exhibition that will explore major carrier Ethernet networking and service trends. To be staged in New York City, October 15-17, admission is free for attendees meeting our prequalification criteria. For more information, or to register, click here.

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