Intel to debut new architecture

Intel's IXA is supposed to be a network do-all.

Intel this week will outline a new silicon architecture designed to provide networking hardware makers with the building blocks for developing a wide range of products quickly and easily.

Intel will roll out IXA (Internet Exchange Architecture) at its Intel Developer Forum in Palm Springs, California. As part of the architecture, the company plans to provide a wide variety of integrated communications chips to enable network hardware makers to create everything from workgroup Ethernet switches to carrier-class switches and edge routers, sources said.

IXA and its processors will join a host of forthcoming similar products from such vendors as IBM, all of which promise to make networking equipment less expensive and easier to upgrade.

The flagship of Intel's programmable network processor line, the IXP (Internet Exchange Processor) 1200 network processor, uses a StrongARM embedded processor core acquired from Digital Equipment The core is surrounded by six RISC-based microprocessors that can be programmed to support a variety of packet-handling functions, according to sources close to Intel. The IXP 1200 will be supported by development tools such as compilers, debuggers and simulators to help speed product creation, the sources said.

A second processor, the IXE (Internet Exchange Engine) 2412 switch processor, provides the silicon building blocks for creating workgroup switches, while the IXF (Internet Exchange Forwarder) 6400 is a broadband processing engine for building carrier-class switches. The switches will support speeds as high as OC-48.

The chips integrate technologies Intel gained in acquisitions of Level One Communications and Softcom Microsystems as well as from its earlier purchase of semiconductor technology and manufacturing facilities from Digital. Intel has already provided product samples and simulation software to customers, which will likely be identified at the NetWorld+Interop show next month, said one source. The chips are expected to be available by year's end.

Intel officials would not comment on unannounced products.

As Intel moves forward in the programmable chip space, a mix of small startups and large vendors are also racing alongside the chip giant to deliver samples of their products by year's end. "C-Port, Agere, Maker [Communications] and Intel are taking the approach that they are doing the basic building blocks with all the tools you need and letting OEMs add value," said Esmeralda Silva, an analyst at IDC. "This allows folks to concentrate on value-added features and leave things that used to be part of [application-specific integrated circuit] internal designs" to the chip makers.

Stan Christensen looks forward to having the ability to quickly add features to switches. "The ability to change out at the [media access control] level from one format to another would be a big feature," said Christensen, network engineering manager at PeopleSoft.