SAN JOSE -- New and painful economic realities will force systems manufacturers in the networking space to shift from custom parts like ASICs to a new breed of programmable network processors in the market, according to the keynote speaker at the Network Processor Forum here today.
In fact, ASICs will figure less and less in the design equation for systems manufacturers that are under pressure to develop their products more rapidly, said Chuck Fox, president and chief executive of Chameleon Systems Inc. San Jose-based Chameleon is a supplier of field-programmable communications processors.
"ASICs will continue to be an important design set, but for a smaller and smaller [customer base in the communications market]," Fox said. "ASICs will continue to experience a slow and painful," Fox said at the keynote address at the Network Processor Forum.
Today, systems manufacturers face a major decision in their designs between performance verses fl exibility, Fox said. This poses a difficult choice between ASICs and merchant network processors.
Traditional ASICs remain important for use in developing higher-speed devices for networking applications. And in some cases, ASICs are faster than the new off-the-shelf network processors in the market.
But there are several problems with ASICs. First, cell-based or custom ASICs are still more expensive and less flexible than the new breed of network processors on the market, Fox said. Second, the design cycles take longer with ASICs, he said. And finally, there is a severe shortage of ASIC designers in the market, he added.
Fox added that systems manufacturers must embrace these new programmable network processors--and for good reason. Network processors are off-the-shelf, inexpensive parts that promise to enable OEMs to develop their products more rapidly, he said. These new programmable parts also deliver a variety of services--at lower costs, he said.
Still, network processor supplier face s ome challenges as well. Suppliers have begun to ship their first-generation parts, but some of these devices have come up short in some cases. Some of these parts do not live up to their promised transmission rates, while others are limited in terms of delivering services (see today's story).
But Fox believes network processors will overcome those problems. "I believe that network processors will have to become completely programmable," he said.