SAN FRANCISCO — Increasing network traffic is going to push communications issues into the computing industry mainstream, Intel executives told developers Tuesday, and Canadian companies are already preparing for the transition.


chipmaker shifted focus from its server processors on the second day of Intel Developer Forum (IDF) 2002 to discuss a modular, non-proprietary approach to network infrastructure. This was accompanied by the release of three network processors based on the same Xscale core that Intel is using in handheld products like Compaq’s iPaq. These programmable chips are designed to give network equipment makers more flexibility as they struggle to adapt to the changing needs of their users. They also produce little heat, which Intel executives said would be important as equipment becomes more tightly integrated.

Sean Maloney, general manager of the Intel Communications Group, described the network processors as “”post-recessionary”” technologies for a market he said is experiencing its first decline in 30 years. While many telecommunications firms have chopped their R&D budgets in half, he said, traffic has not slowed down and he predicted a tenfold increase within the next four years.

“”People need a reason to come back and make purchases that are going to last for three or four years,”” he said. “”The only way to get down the cost of the equipment is tighter integration.””

A number of Canadian companies at the four-day conference are exhibiting products specific to the communications segment. Kanata, Ont.-based SibreCore Technologies, for example, was showcasing its SiberCAM Ultra-9M. This content addressable memory (CAM) based packet forwarding engine can conduct high-speed searches within multiple fields like TCP ports and destination ports. Shane Bracewell, SiberCore’s marketing manager for business development, said he supported Intel’s mission to promote non-proprietary networking equipment.

“”We’ve definitely seen some slowdown, it’s affected us, but this is not a commodity. This is stuff they need,”” he said. “”The upside is that before, (customers) would just build an ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) and build integration for our product into it. Now they look at outsourcing that and they’re more prone to buying off-the-shelf type of products.””

Maloney predicted that optical 10Gbps technology would soon move from the long-haul networks down through the metropolitan core to the enterprise. This migration opens up a wide array of challenges, he said, because the market requirements would be different for each type of customer. For example, network carriers would require tunable lasers in the long-haul and metro, but may use less expensive fibre like vertical capacity service emitting layers (VCSEL) in the enterprise. “”Everyone is going to have to make some packaging decisions which can be standardized to reduce the costs,”” Maloney said.

Intel is working with a number of industry associations to finalize standards, Maloney added. These are becoming more important as networking technologies like 802.11 enter what he called the “”irrational exuberance phase.””

The keynote Tuesday included a demonstration of 802.11a, for example, where a notebook user who was watching a streaming video application and recording a Webcast was able to move across the room and keep his sessions going while unhooking a single cable.

This kind of technology shows potential for enterprise users who want to move from room to room or within a hotel and keeping their work going, he said. However billing, configuration, security and compatibility issues still need to be addressed. “”If they are not, we will have a backlash from consumers,”” he said.

Maloney and other Intel executives admitted that some of the issues discussed Tuesday were difficult for many IT managers to grasp and may not be as compelling as some of the desktop or server-related news at IDF. Joe Aragona, director of marketing at Solidum Systems, said the interest would depend on the audience. Solidum, an Ottawa-based fabless semiconductor company, is demonstrating its PAX.Ware 1200 Evaluation System in the conference’s technology showcase.

“”Server chipsets may matter to someone who’s building a server,”” he admitted, “”but there is a lot of interest in the discussion of that the traffic increase means.””

“”It’s a manufacturer versus user issue,”” added Solidum’s Dave Maxwell. “”If it’s a manufacturer of network equipment, they’re interested. If they’re a user, they are only interested in how it affects the performance of their machine.””

Intel said it would release six network processors within the next month. IDF continues through Thursday.


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