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For net gear, all roads lead to ODMs

Posted: 16 Jun 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ODMs? Loring Wirbel? network equipment?

Semiconductor and embedded software companies teamed up at this year's Interop show to squeeze OEMs out of next-generation network equipment.

If such activity continues, efforts to define common platforms in hybrid wireline/wireless switches will be followed by future security and WAN optimization platforms. And Taiwan-based ODMs will be in the driver's seat.

Leading Wi-Fi switch chip players like Broadcom, Marvell Semiconductor and Agere Systems are working with router software leader NextHop Inc. to bring reference designs with preloaded code to contract manufacturers such as Accton, Alpha and Delta. NextHop is also working with SiNett Corp., which focuses on PCI cards and subsystems using a GbE switch and companion WLAN controller chip.

Meanwhile, packet-processing specialist Bivio Networks Inc. has moved closer to an ODM model, working with XML-processing chip specialist Tarari Inc. Bivio aims to offer content-processing platforms that will be private-labeled by vertical OEMs such as SourceFire Inc. SoC startup Mistletoe Technologies Inc. is rolling out embedded security functions as a quick-turn customizable platform for ODMs, rather than as a programmable security processor for a general audience.

The market closest to fruition is the one for combined wired/wireless switch controllers, particularly those that embed limited security functions. In theory, this should represent the biggest threat to Trapeze Networks and Aruba Networks, which offer dedicated wireless switching and security products, although Trapeze CEO Jim Vogt said the new startups "just took the process a little bit further than we did."

Paul Joseph, director of marketing at SiNett, said his company still sees business inquiries from OEMs, but the company has adjusted its OneEdge product development strategy slightly to take advantage of more ODM contracts.

Elan Amir, CEO of Bivio, said it was necessary for Bivio to get closer to content-processor vendors, since the Intel Xeon had reached the end of its rope as a standalone networking engine. Developers still like common control-plane processors and operating systems like Linux, but they want first-pass designers to ease the work with specialized silicon providers such as Tarari.

In an effort to get GateD routing software and NextHop's new wireless-switching software to the same group of contract manufacturers, the company has taken the most explicit route, working with semiconductor suppliers to bring fully characterized designs to ODMs. PG Menon, VP of marketing at NextHop, said a private-labeling effort that was once used solely to help OEMs out of a time bind has now become a preferred method for bringing new designs to market.

"Private labeling is not used as a mere stopgap any more," Menon said. "NIH [not invented here] concerns are slowly breaking down, and now it's OK to permanently outsource a variety of products."

NextHop founder and CTO Sue Hares said there is no reason to think such an effort would be limited to switching products in the enterprise. Any common network appliance could be a target for an ODM design, she said, and NextHop is already looking at a variety of bundles for products at the edge of the enterprise network, such as a WAN optimizer or a combination firewall and intrusion detection system.

The end game for network equipment could well be the move of router software to open-source models. At Interop, newcomer Vyatta Inc. showed a full router suite on a CD-ROM card, with a promise that the company would offer white-box hardware from Taiwan as a vehicle for proving the router code's viability.

Vyatta VP of strategy and marketing Dave Roberts said his company intends to be the equivalent in open-source networking software to Red Hat for Linux.

- Loring Wirbel
EE Times

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