'Net processors to play big role, Intel exec says

Flexible network processors will take the place of custom-made chips in much network equipment, according to Mark Christensen, vice president and general manager of Intel's network communications group.

In his keynote address at NetWorld+Interop 99 Atlanta earlier this week, Christensen said users should have the flexibility to add services to network hardware, a flexibility not allowed by Application Specific Integrated Circuits.

"We have to be ready for the applications of the future, even if we don't know what those applications are," he said. Instead of using custom-made silicon, equipment makers should include network processors in their hardware. Although these processors are programmable like general-purpose processors, they are specifically built to move packets of information quickly.

Equipment makers could write services, such as security and quality-of-service guarantees, as software to run on network processors, Christensen said. "Silicon enables the new class of services that the Internet community is going to demand," he said.

For end users, network processors mean that services such as security will be "built in as dial-tone." For service providers, they mean that new services can be provisioned quickly. For switch and router vendors, network processors help products get to market more quickly and stay useful longer because new features can be deployed simply as software updates.

Equipment makers "are divorced now from the 18-month custom-silicon cycle," Christensen said.

Just after the keynote address, Intel announced a chipset that includes a Fast Ethernet controller and a coprocessor to encrypt traffic as it travels over a network. The chipset will support IP Security and use both 56-bit and 168-bit Data Encryption Standard encryption.

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