Switch fabric vendor tackles scalability

A new architecture for the connections between interfaces on a network switch will let equipment makers build platforms that grow with customer needs for seven to 10 years, according to start-up Dune Networks Inc., which unveiled the architecture Tuesday.

The Agoura Hills, Calif., semiconductor company is developing both a switch fabric processor and components that work along with it, so a switch maker using the parts can upgrade one part of its system and know that other capabilities will grow along with it, said Ofer Iny, chief technology officer of Dune.

Although adoption of the next generation of network interfaces has been slowed by a weak economy, Iny believes carriers and corporations will need vastly greater network capacity within the next several years. Traditionally, they have moved to the next generation of performance by buying new switch platforms because existing ones haven’t supported the new levels of performance, Iny said.

Dune’s SAND (Scalable Architecture for Networking Devices) architecture includes a switch fabric, ingress/egress traffic management and scheduling. The architecture supports many different kinds of interfaces, and it allows system makers to design switches in which each port has different ways of scheduling and buffering traffic. This works because all the pieces were designed together and can talk to each other in their own language, Iny said.

Different kinds of interfaces, such as ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode), TDM (Time-Division Multiplexing) and Ethernet, have different requirements for traffic scheduling. With the Dune architecture, different treatment for different streams of traffic would be carried through the switch fabric, instead of the switch fabric simply providing a “dumb” interconnect among the blades.

In addition, because those traffic management capabilities are supported by the fabric, they can be supported across multiple linked switch chassis, allowing system makers to scale up their platforms beyond one box.

Dune also aims to provide these capabilities with a small number of chips through greater integration. Fewer chips mean more ports can fit on a switch and the system will require less electricity.

Service providers are tired of having to buy new hardware every time they want to migrate to the next level of performance, said Jag Bolaria, a Sacramento, Calif.-based switch-fabric analyst for The Linley Group. On the other hand, there are many switch fabric vendors and probably other ways of solving the problem, he said. In addition, some system designers may maintain that building a large amount of bandwidth into the switch fabric can solve the problem.

The role of merchant silicon vendors such as Dune may be growing as network equipment makers face tighter budgets, Bolaria added. While a strong vendor such as Cisco Systems Inc. may be able to continue doing much of its own development, even big names such as Nortel Networks Corp. may increasingly turn to outside vendors, he said.

The SAND architecture is expected to ship in sample quantities by the end of this year, according to Iny.