LAS VEGAS A handful of new startups demonstrating software suites in the Embedded Networking Pavilion at the Networld+Interop conference have raised the question of what a netxwork-processor support code suite should entail.
Some vendors, including IP Infusion Inc. and Teja Technologies Inc., use "operating system" to describe their combinations of microcode and router code, although the modules require either Linux or a real-time kernel for full capabilities. Others, like LVL7 Systems Inc., combine many of the same functions but stress router protocols and specific microcoding routines.
The notion of licensing router code and specialized microcode for network processors was made popular by Radlan's OpENS program and Nortel Networks Inc.'s Open IP suite. But the startups are basing their business strategies on software licensing.
Indeed, the business model closely resembles that of the protocol-stack and soft-switch-stack specialist s, most of which have been acquired by semiconductor or system vendors. While the newcomers pledge the advantages of independence, they represent potential acquisition targets for network processor vendors.
LVL7 Systems (Cary, N.C.) was founded in November 1999 and received an equity investment from Taiwan-based Accton Technology Corp. At Networld+Interop, the company introduced a Fastpath suite of router code, device driver code and processor microcode.
LVL7 has signed pacts in the past few weeks with the MMC Networks group of Applied Microcircuits Corp. and with Virata Corp. While Virata (Cambridge, Mass.) already develops much of its own middleware, it will work with LVL7 on joint protocol software solutions.
In practice, LVL7 will be the first to use elements of the Virata software suite as licensed tools within Fastpath, said Erik Dixon, LVL7's vice president of business development. Dixon said his company needed a path for quick entry into such new protocol realms as multiprotocol label s witching.
"We will focus on working with network processor partners first, but we will offer software products directly to end-system manufacturers," Dixon said. "Obviously, a lot of the network-processor folks have very good C compilers, but we feel we have the best low-level assembler teams out there."
The market model is much like the broad development tools offered by software specialists in the integer and DSP sectors. It's a misnomer to call the new tool developers' offerings OSes, Dixon said, since a separate commercial kernel is used with the microcode and router code.
IP Infusion Inc. (San Jose, Calif.), headed by Nick Keating, has combined Internet Protocol Version 4 and Ipv6 routing suites into an overall environment it calls ZebOS. The full ZebOS routing services module supports such popular routing protocols as BGP4, RIP and OSPF in the VxWorks and Unix environments. At Networld+Interop (N+I) the company announced a deal with QNX Software Systems Ltd. (Kanata, Ont.) to integrate ZebO S with the QNX real-time operating system.
And Teja Technologies (San Jose, Calif.), which introduced its Network Processing Operating System (NPOS) in early April, gave its first demonstration of the software at N+I, showing the suite running in both VxWorks and Linux environments.
One alternative marketing model is being explored by a company launched by Karen Auerbach and David Preston the same team, from the Wollongong Group, that founded Epilogue Technology Inc. Auerbach and Preston came up with some new concepts for bundling a full router code suite for IPv4 and IPv6, combining efficient network address translation software for the earlier version with full code for the latter. The environment has an expanded addressability base that does not require network address translation.
Preston, general manager of InterNetShare Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.), said that he and Auerbach had intended to make the new company purely a software-licensing operation. But developers were confused when they saw the software implemented last year in a Lineo PC-based system, Preston said, so InterNetShare developed a small desktop edge router, dubbed All Aboard!, which it will sell through reseller channels as a means of getting its code accepted.
Auerbach, president of InterNetShare, said that she anticipates keeping the router hardware business as long as there is a market for it but that the real interest for the company is to license its source code for residential gateways, advanced TV sets and similar platforms requiring advanced router subnetting. As a midway alternative, InterNetShare also is considering developing special mezzanine cards to embed its v4/v6 stacks.
For example, it is working with its Sunnyvale neighbor, Roving Networks Inc., to offer routing capabilities for wireless-access points that can be configured through daughtercards for Bluetooth, 802.11 wireless LANs and similar functions.
At N+I, InterNetShare signed a pact with Lineo under which the latter company will offer its S ecure Edge route platform for InterNetShare to OEMs, while InterNetShare will offer its router code to Lineo. Because the All Aboard! router offers encryption and multiple-channel virtual private network tunneling courtesy of a Hi/fn Inc. 7951 encryption processor, Preston said he expects InterNetShare and Lineo to maintain an "interesting" competitive and partnering relationship.
"This is a business model for getting router code deployed that is working on several levels," Preston said. "We don't think anyone's applying precisely this model to the embedded-routing market yet."