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Ethernet chip tailors switching to needs of carriers

Posted: 26 Sep 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Ethernet? switching chip? carrier needs? 10GbE?

Startup Lightstorm Networks has come out of stealth mode with its plans and its first chip tailoring Ethernet switching to the needs of carriers. The Brooklyn-10 is a 10GbE switch supporting in an off-the-shelf device the kind of scaling, statistics and services the company says carriers require.

Today top tier OEMs such as Cisco and Nortel develop their own ASICs for carrier-class switches. Many others use network processors or FPGAs combined with fixed-function Ethernet switches geared for smaller business networks. Lightstorm offers carrier-class fixed function chips as an alternative.

"In the carrier market, no one else is doing this," claimed Wade Appelman, VP of sales and market for Lightstorm.

Second tier OEMs unable to afford their own ASIC programs may be Lightstorm's best target. Appelman claimed that network processors such as those from EZChip and Xelerated lack required performance when OEMs program them with many of the emerging services in which carriers are interested.

It's unclear whether a large OEM such as Cisco would be willing to forgo the proprietary value it brings to its products with in-house ASICs. Cisco ranks as one of the largest ASIC developers among systems makers. Similarly, the startup will face high hurdles displacing incumbents such as Broadcom and Marvel even those company's chips do not provide all the features carriers may want.

Tailored solution
The Brooklyn chip supports up to 40,000 virtual LANs and 128,000 network addresses, nearly ten times as many as some of the off-the-shelf Ethernet switches used in carrier systems today. The chip also supports many of the operational, maintenance and administrative features common in carrier Sonet and ATM switches. That includes more measures of network performance that provided in business-grade Ethernet silicon.

In addition, Brooklyn supports some new carrier services beginning to emerge as significant standards such as new forms of tunneling and layer-2 bridging.

The Brooklyn chip is programmable through an applications programming interface. However, unlike network processors, it has no on-board general purpose microprocessor.

"The market we are initially going after is optical transport," sad Appelman. "This chip is ideal for systems on the network edge or metro edge, but it is not geared for core carrier networks," he added.

Some OEMs have Sonet systems for these markets and may consider adopting Brooklyn as a quick way to add support for emerging Internet Protocol services in their next-generation designs. "The market wants more intelligent Ethernet services in these boxes," he said.

The company has a road map that calls for delivering versions of Brooklyn with both more and fewer ports over the next 18 months. It will also deliver an aggregation chip to link multiple Brooklyn chips in a system.

"There are some services that need more scale in some points of the network," Appelman said.

The Brooklyn chip is sampling now and costs $250.

The company was formed in 2004 by Bryan Campbell, a PMC Sierra technology manager, when that company shut down its telecom chip design center in Ireland where he worked. About the same time, 3Com shuttered a design center in Ireland than had been developing enterprise Ethernet chips. The two groups got together and decided to pool their expertise and try to establish a market for carrier-class, fixed-function Ethernet chips.

The company has snagged $21 in an A series of venture capital to date, enough to take it through delivering the chips on its road map by the end of 2008. It expects to raise another round of funding sometime in 2008.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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