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Designing at the network edge

Posted: 01 Jul 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:internet? network? embedded network processor? router/switch? service providers?

A funny thing happened on the way to the high-speed multi-Gbps future of the Internet. A combination of factors has led to a severe slowdown in the construction of the so called "information superhighway." As a result, suppliers of the systems and devices are looking for new markets. The good news is they have found them at the network edge. The push is on for building the on-ramps and off-ramps and improving the complex routes by which traffic is funneled onto and off the high-speed network core.

Network core conditions are slowly improving and companies are beginning to make headway--not on the pure performance of their designs, but on their cost-effectiveness. According to John Bednarek, director of business development, C-Port network processor group of Motorola, the past two years have been challenging for the network switch market. "Switch sales have dropped 23 percent from 2000 to 2002 due to service provider financial woes at the network core, where earlier service provider networks were built out to accommodate the insatiable future demand of bandwidth," he said.

Compared to the almost glacial market movement at the network core, the frenzy of activity at the edge has embedded NPU, router/switch vendors and service providers excited, and feeling the rush of expectations and opportunities as they move to address the new set of challenges emerging there.

Although bandwidth requirements of today are quite modest - from 10 and hundreds of megabits to 1Gbps - everything else about the environment is much more complicated. For example, there is a variety of physical network specifications to be considered, depending on the provider and the requirements of the end-user.

These include two or three different types of wireless networking specifications, Ethernet, ATM, cable modem and a variety of message protocols below the TCP/IP layer and atop it, varying security and reliability needs and wants. The media that users want to run over these various channels also varies - data only, data and voice, VoIP, and multimedia - as does the quality of service levels.

"The multiservice edge network is rife with opportunity," said Rubin Dhillon, VP of business development, SBS Technologies Inc. "But hard work is needed to take advantage of it. For one, communications equipment manufacturers may have trouble finding embedded systems developers capable of meeting all their requirements."

Surmounting them will require more than just the imaginative use of existing NPU architectures, says contributor Vinoj Kumar, product architect at Agere Systems Inc. Instead, fundamental modifications are needed that allow network service providers to offer carefully differentiated and layered services.

- Bernard Cole

EE Times

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