Startup's chip integrates wireless, wired networks

SiNett is developing an unified access chip for unified wireless and wired enterprise networks that could lower network equipment costs.

SiNett's recently released unified access chip for integrated wireless and wired networks can improve performance, manageability and cost of ownership of such networks for enterprise users, according to a company executive. The company, however, may encounter competition from vendors that are trying to achieve the same goal, but with different methods, analysts say.

SiNett's design integrates on a single chip wireless and wired packet processing, switching, security, mobility and traffic management, and can be deployed in unified access edge switches, WLAN (wireless LAN) switches and WLAN appliances, according to Shiri Kadambi, president and chief executive officer of SiNett, a networking silicon design startup in Sunnyvale, California.

Systems built using SiNett's chips are likely to have a system bill-of-materials that is about one-third to one-fourth of the cost of current implementations, Kadambi said.

Current network equipment, which addresses unified access requirements, uses a "ping-pong architecture" that processes the packet in a number of hops across a number of devices, including a switch, a security processor and a network processor, each with their own buffer, according to Kadambi. "You end up doing multiple copies and references to buffers and tables at each stage, which increases latency, and brings down performance," he added.

SiNett announced last week two versions of its OneEdge unified access chip. The SN5024 edge-switch processor is designed for integrated wired and wireless edge switches, while the SN6004 controller is optimized for use in WLAN appliances that centralize wireless access management at the data center level. "We support unification both at the network level, and at the port level," Kadambi said.

It is only incrementally harder for SiNett to support both the core and the edge of the network, and as a startup they cannot afford to pass up either opportunity, according to Joseph Byrne, semiconductor analyst at Gartner, a Stamford, Connecticut-based research and consulting company.

A one-chip solution removes the need for a separate crypto accelerator, and the cost savings may be as high as 50 percent depending on the configuration, Byrne said. A single chip, purpose-built solution also keeps more traffic in the fast, hard-wired path, and the performance benefits could start to become noticeable if the switch is heavily loaded and the wireless links are carrying latency-sensitive traffic such as voice, Byrne added.

The SiNett chip architecture uses a hardware pipeline to do wired and wireless packet processing, in-line decryption and network processing functions in one pass, according to Kadambi. "We have stitched in the decryption and parsing for example in the ingress engine, and reduced the number of stores of the packet to one," he said. The result is a performance of over 8G bps (bits per second) full duplex, in contrast to 500M bps to about 2G bps in unified access implementations that use the multiple hop, ping-pong architecture, according to Kadambi.

A key element of SiNett's strategy has been to implement its chip in a combination of hardware and software, with an eye to improving flexibility while configuring the system. It has also provided on the chip four processor cores from MIPS Technologies Inc. in Mountain View, California, for implementing user specific functions.

"I am particularly intrigued with the inclusion of the embedded applications processors," said Craig Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group, an advisory firm in Ashland, Massachusetts, that specializes in wireless communications and mobile computing. "This feature will allow customization by OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), and potentially even the ability of end-users to configure a specific solution to meet unique needs," Mathias added.

There will be a number of products like those from SiNett by the end of this year, according to Mathias, who added that this would result in many new switches that combine wireless and wired, at low prices, and with a lot more variety and configurability. "Software will enable flexibility that's been hard to achieve so far, and price performance will improve dramatically," Mathias said.

Although Gartner's Byrne described SiNett's product as the first integrated switch chip he is aware of to support converged wired and wireless Ethernet networks, he said the company faces several challengers. Cisco Systems, the leading supplier of enterprise WLAN and wired LAN equipment, tends to use home-grown ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) rather than ASSPs (Application Specific Standard Products), according to Byrne. Other major WLAN suppliers, such as Symbol Technologies, are unlikely to make inroads on the wired LAN side, he added.

SiNett is also likely to compete against other merchant switch ASSP suppliers such as Broadcom Corp. in Irvine, California, and Marvell Technology Group, said Byrne. While both companies currently trail SiNett, they are capable technologically and have incumbent market status, according to Byrne.

A prototype of the SiNett chip has already been shipped to OEM customers, and the first chips, fabricated by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing on 0.13 micron process, will be shipping in the second quarter of this year, according to Kadambi.

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