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Meeting requirements of multiservice nets

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

Keywords:multiservice network? protocol? sonnet? optical pipe? core network device?

Despite the bloodbath going on at the 10Gbps/100Gbps network core, players at the edge and enterprise have continued to build, albeit at a slower pace and on a smaller scale. Their budgets are drastically reduced and their focus is no longer time-to-market but "cost-to-market." And although saving money and using resources efficiently are now the name of the game, there are plenty of opportunities for embedded developers who still want to play.

Core architecture

At the core of a network are large, fast optical pipes in a fixed architecture based on a small number of protocols, predominantly SONET. The primary purpose of a core network device is to move network traffic fast without getting in the way. And since many of the once-centralized services and features have migrated out to the edge, the range of I/O interfaces implemented is generally limited to a small number of high-speed optical lines.

It is far different at the network's edge. Here resides a wide array of access technologies, ranging from T1/E1and DS3/E3 copper networks to wireless standards such as 2.5G/ 3G technologies, among others. There is also a mixture of protocols such as frame relay, ATM, and Ethernet.

Service providers have learned the hard way that it is difficult to make money from simple access networks, so now they are offering a range of services that include firewalls, virtual private networks, bandwidth-on-demand and virus protection for data networks. Traditional voice services, such as voice mail, call waiting, and caller ID, have also moved to the edge of the network.

Expanding infrastructure

The result is a new "multiservice" network edge that requires scalable network devices supporting a wide range of interfaces, features and services. In turn, communications equipment developers need embedded-system developers to provide the building blocks that can address their broad needs quickly and cost-effectively. The successful embedded systems developer must have strong technologists, engineers and product specialists focusing on the three required building blocks of any basic computing system: CPU, I/O and systems infrastructure.

Today's CPU products must incorporate communications technology into the core design. Embedded systems developers need to offer two classes of CPUs: generic models often based on an X86 or PowerPC, and processors tailored for I/O applications and packet processing, including NPUs and similar devices.

The generic CPU must manage network devices that provide the ability to host system-wide functions such as operations, administration, maintenance and provisioning - all the activities involved in administering and taking care of a network, device or switch security and monitoring. This type of CPU product provides high-end processors (predominantly X86 and PowerPC) with memory and storage devices that are flexible enough to interface to a data bus, such as PCI, and to a packet-switched architecture, such as the PICMG 2.16 standard. The operating system is usually a non-real-time embedded OS.

The second CPU product class, aimed at I/O and packet processing, features NPUs or PowerPC processors connected to an internal architecture that is highly optimized for the job of moving packets. These CPU products run real-time operating systems such as VxWorks and embedded Linux and must be capable of supporting a wide array of I/O interfaces.

Both CPU classes are available in various form factors, though communications equipment developers prefer CompactPCI, PCI mezzanine card or a mixture of both.

The I/O challenge is significant. Not only must the embedded systems developer provide a large range of I/O interfaces running from Ethernet and T1/E1 to DS-3 and OC-x, he must also provide the protocols that run on them, and obtain and maintain the various regulatory compliance and certifications. Embedded systems developers must keep up with emerging trends in network architecture. But most importantly, I/O products must be scalable, allowing the network equipment developer to integrate a wide range of interfaces or to migrate to new, emerging I/O technologies with little additional development and integration effort.

- Rubin Dhillon

VP Business Development

SBS Technologies Inc.

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