Intel Jumps Into Network Processor Market

Intel Corp. took the plunge into the network processor market. While in the process of acquiring Level One Communications Inc. (, a LAN/WAN chip manufacturer, Intel announced that it will offer network processor components designed to enable new features and services to be added quickly and economically to multi-protocol enterprise- and service provider-class switches, routers and access concentrators.

The network processors will be designed to help equipment vendors solve the challenge of providing differentiated services and customized new products for their customers.

Using the software-programmable network processors, vendors can add unique, value-added features to their products well into the development cycle or after those products have been shipped. In contrast, vendors using traditional ASIC, or fixed-function, technology must lock down feature sets 12 to 18 months before a product is released.

"We expect vendors to be able to focus more on adding value, and less on reinventing the wheel every time they build new products," says Greg Lang, vice president and general manager of Intel’s network interface division.

Intel will also provide software development tools for its network processors to facilitate product design and to enable equipment suppliers to provide post-sale product upgrades for their customers. For example, a vendor may supply high-density ATM or Gigabit Ethernet chassis-based switches to their customers today, and later provide new wire-speed voice, video and data services by reprogramming the network processor.

"Enterprises will benefit because the software upgradability will extend the product’s life cycles," Lang says.

Customers will also be able to expect more products faster since vendors will have a shorter time to market, and they won’t be tied to waiting for standards, as the products can be upgraded as new standards are accepted.

Intel will announce specific product offerings later this year. Some of the advanced capabilities Intel plans to offer include: wire-speed multi-protocol support for LAN and WAN integration, sophisticated QoS support to help provide reliable Voice over IP transmission, and high-speed evaluation of QoS tags to help enhance Policy Based Network Management. -- Thomas Sullivan

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.