Comms chips

Silicon Access Launches Billing Chip

Carriers need to work out ways of turning bandwidth into dollars, and today Silicon Access Networks Inc. announced a little chip that might help them do just that (see Silicon Access Offers Co-processor).

The iFlow Accountant is the industry's first dedicated billing and policing co-processor, the company claims. It's designed to give carriers the ability to bill for services on a per-flow, per-service, and per-packet basis, and that's something they are crying out for, according to Anthony Gallo, director of product marketing for Silicon Access.

Right now, carriers are stuck in the trap of supplying commodity IP services, which have little added value other than getting the data from destination to source, he says. Carriers can only compete in this market by slashing their prices, and with many of them in financial difficulties, they don't want to do that.

The answer is to supply multiple services with different service-level agreements (see The Service-Aware Switch). But, as Gallo points out, manufacturers of routers and switches have had their work cut out, keeping up with the escalating line rates and aggregate capacities of the Internet, and have had limited resources to throw at the problem of service differentiation.

What's more, in Gallo's view, many vendors of merchant silicon such as Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC) seem to have tumbled into the same trap. The majority are concentrating on offering a single-chip solution for packet processing, where the focus is on transport. They can do higher level processing, but only at the expense of speed, and in any case, the statistics and policing functions are restricted, he contends.

Enter the Accountant. It performs three main functions: classification, enforcement, and billing. "No matter how many flows, you need to classify them all, to determine what sort of data they're carrying," explains Gallo. "Then you need to enforce the service, to make sure the customer gets what he paid for and no more. And last, you need to keep track of all the statistics, to ensure the bill is accurate."

Gallo claims that the Accountant can handle policing operations on 128,000 flows at any one time. This is good, but does not put it at the top of the class in terms of number of flows. Some traffic managers also do policing, Vitesse Semiconductor Corp.'s (Nasdaq: VTSS) being one of them. Its traffic manager chip, PaceMaker 2.5 can support 256,000 flows (see Vitesse Offers PaceMaker, TeraStream).

However, Gallo contends that the Accountant is the only chip to offer policing of thousands of flows in conjunction with statistics for billing. It can maintain up to 1 million counters for billing purposes, he claims.

From a billing perspective, the chip also contains several nifty features to ensure the accuracy of the data. Gallo claims that the Accountant is unique, even among custom ASICs, in having a "snapshot" mode, which freezes a counter and redirects new requests to another counter. This freezes information so it can be downloaded to the billing system, preventing customers from being double billed.

Another point worth noting is that at 10 Gbit/s the rollover rate of a 42-bit counter is 1 hour, meaning that there is plenty of time in which to request an information update before the counter gets overwritten. (The chip also contains 21-bit counters, which are more appropriate for keeping track of lower-speed flows.)

To do all this requires an extremely sophisticated chip, Gallo notes. To wit, it's built in state-of-the-art 0.13 micron process technology, and contains 24 Mb of on-board SRAM (the state-of-the-art in SRAM is 18 Mb on a single chip, he says).

The iFlow Accountant is the third chip Silicon Access has released. In August 2001, it launched -- and is now shipping -- the iFlow Address Processor, which provides an address lookup function similar to a CAM (content addressable memory). And in October 2001, it announced the iFlow Packet Processor, a programmable network processing unit that is expected to begin sampling later this quarter (see Silicon Access Processes Packets). The Accountant is already shipping, the company claims. It costs about $300.

Silicon Access is planning to launch two further chips in its portfolio: a classifier, which is currently at the fab, and a traffic manager, which is scheduled for the second half of 2002. All five chips in the portfolio are designed to work together, but that doesn't exclude them from working separately. "We have design wins for all these chips individually," says Gallo.

Indeed, with internal ASIC teams representing the most significant source of competition to off-the-shelf network processors, it makes sense for Silicon Access to offer a piecewise solution rather than a single-chip one, Gallo claims. "When we go to a customer, we ask 'What's your problem?' and we sell them a solution to that, rather than offering a fork-lift upgrade."

Silicon Access has raised $85 million in funding to date from a group of top-drawer investors, including Comdisco, Intel Capital, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., Norwest Venture Partners, Raza Foundries, and Tallwood Venture Capital.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading
optigirl 12/4/2012 | 11:03:06 PM
re: Silicon Access Launches Billing Chip Well, since "free" surfing does not really add any revenue opportunities for SPs, that's not necessarily a bad thing for them. It will have some impact on the optical industry in that if it limits demand for bandwidth then no need to keep upgrading networks to move traffic that earns them no return on investment.

Believe it when I see it, though.
sntwk 12/4/2012 | 11:03:06 PM
re: Silicon Access Launches Billing Chip This technology bodes ill for free surfing. If carriers/service providers have the tools to charge on per packet or total bits basis then we will see different economic models emerging. We may even see 200 any time minutes/bits + 3000 unlimited night and weekend minutes/bits?

I think carriers/service providers have to have a way to make money. Given that carriers provide leased line service to Service Providers and currently the network elements of carriers nor the routers of service providers have a way to look at packets and keep billing counters to allow carriers and service providers to charge. It might be relatively easy for service providers to integrate billing chips into routers unless it is done bottom-to-top (carriers first, service proviers next).

It all means free surfing is at the end of its life. Less people will use internet if it is not free and people who will use will be carefull not to waste time and get charged.
hey_you 12/4/2012 | 11:03:05 PM
re: Silicon Access Launches Billing Chip But as you may have noticed. Most of the web-sites
display "junk-info" anyways. To obtain substancial info always cost $$. I say by providing billing chips may force ISPs to have some substancial info on the net since customers would expect good quality of info for the price they have been charged. But, billing will also slow the growth rate of internet traffic. But I suppose ---internet is like a highway --- free for all but if you need some special "treatment" then pay a "toll" which is, in my opinion, the best model for the internet. A balance between "free" and "billing" world.
mrcasual 12/4/2012 | 11:03:04 PM
re: Silicon Access Launches Billing Chip It all means free surfing is at the end of its life. Less people will use
internet if it is not free and people who will use will be carefull not to
waste time and get charged.

Don't think of it as the death of the free internet, more of the birth of the better internet.

But seriously, one of the problems with the old economics of the internet was that nobody was really paying to support it. As such it has remained a best effort service.

Once carriers can provide differentiated services (pardon the IETF reference) and make money off of the premium ones then it may actually help the "free" internet. Kind of like how in the old days local phone service heavily subsidised the long distance service.
boozoo 12/4/2012 | 11:03:04 PM
re: Silicon Access Launches Billing Chip My oppinion:

The free internet will never die. You don't just give something just to take it back later. It's perceived bad by the customers.
And the internet is not free - despite the term free, we all pay a fee to access it.
What's free is most of the content (the crapy one). But the billing chip is not helping here. It is helping with the transport (raw bandwidth)) billing.

I see the usage of the billing chip not to bill the joe average. Joe average will keep on paying a flat fee for the access (transport) + fees for content (from 0 dollars to ?), depending on what he's using.

The market for this chip is inter-SP billing and VPN traffic billing (for SLA-bound contracts). In order to bill SLAs, you need some measure of the raw bandwidth consumed, to prove that you are not charging too much or too few.

And the billing model is not going to be: "You created 10Tbps of traffic this month, give me x bucks", but rather something like: "your average traffic rate last month was 5 Mbps during the day and 1 Mbps during the night, which is within tier 2 of our offering, so please pay the following tier 2 flat rate".

glowingduck 12/4/2012 | 11:03:04 PM
re: Silicon Access Launches Billing Chip "It all means free surfing is at the end of its life. Less people will use internet if it is not free and people who will use will be carefull not to waste time and get charged."

Nothing is ever really free, is it? If it is true that fewer people would surf if it was not free- in essense paying by the bit (or the bucket) - would people surf less, or just demand higher quality bits?

I would definitely curb my surfing habits to keep my rate the same (SBC just raised my DSL from $40 to $50/month - so much for competition)

paly_cat 12/4/2012 | 11:03:02 PM
re: Silicon Access Launches Billing Chip most edge routers today have policing functions and most of them have billing mechanism. most are done in ASICs and a few in software. Who is going to use this chips?
pablo 12/4/2012 | 11:03:02 PM
re: Silicon Access Launches Billing Chip
"Free" Internet? Where? I guess this means flat-rate, relatively low cost, as opposed to free? You never know what it might lead to.

This mostly allows service providers to differentiate themselves with packages that appeal to different users based on their habits. It's a good thing, actually. I'd expect to see flat rate basic services, with some premium services being charged by volume.

Look at mobile telehony: it's not like elaborate pricing packages that became possible with newer technologies made those services unaffordable or more expensive. Quite the contrary. People tend to chose whatever fits them best, and wind up using the service with more awareness. To claim that the Internet is only and exclusively based on what we know as best-effort, fixed-price service is to limit its scope and ultimately its growth amd profitability.

Services like VoIP or such will never become full-blown Infrastructure services unless carriers can find ways to package and price them with more flexibility.
sntwk 12/4/2012 | 11:03:01 PM
re: Silicon Access Launches Billing Chip "Services like VoIP or such will never become full-blown Infrastructure services unless carriers can find ways to package and price them with more flexibility."

I agree with you wrt VoIP.There has to be a way to keep counters and charge.

With Web surfing it is different and it is going to raise concerns. But the moment carriers and service providers have these tools I think they will start developing pricing and business models that might be detrimental to evoluation of internet.

If some one says internet is a highway,you got to know that most of the highways are planned and built by gov albeit through local and federal tax. But individual doesn't to pay for it upfront but public does. I believe network evolution is at cross roads and economic stimulus package has not addresses telecom/internet industry as much it should have been. I think broad band industry (Cable, DSL, Optical ) companies can buy some lobbying and PR to get some stimulus and policy changes that might help us in the loger run.
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