StarFabric association joins forces with PCI group
Fabless chip company StarGen Inc. is encouraging members of the StarFabric Trade Association (SFTA) to combine work on higher-speed switching fabrics with that of the PCI Express Advanced Switching initiative to make sure that physical-layer fabrics of 10Gbps and greater are compatible with the planned fabric extensions to the core PCI Express spec.
PCI protocols were among the key targets of StarGen when it introduced its StarProtocol two years ago, but the expansion of the standard to the higher-speed PCI Express, and the willingness of the PCI special interest group to consider distributed switching, convinced StarFabric supporters it was time to bet on a winner.
Tim Miller, VP of marketing at StarGen and president of the SFTA, said that Intel Corp. and other PCI-SIG members came to StarGen in the spring to suggest the two groups work on common development of the Advanced Switching extension of PCI Express. Though StarProtocol and PCI protocols differ, the two fabric concepts share many things in common.
StarGen's current fabric is a 2.5Gbps standard based on low-voltage differential signaling. The SFTA was examining a variety of high-speed logic types for higher-speed fabrics, including the point-to-point switching based on 8B/10B encoding with an embedded clock that the PCI Express Advanced Switching group was also looking at.
"It was clear that, even with 25 members in the SFTA, we had to align with one of the interconnect groups looking at higher-speed standards," Miller said. "We saw the PCI Express Advanced Switching standard as having the most momentum."
Miller said that the newly launched High-Speed Backplane Initiative appeared interesting, but was concerned strictly with Layer 1 issues that StarGen could use from the perspective of choosing future serdes partners. HSBI did not, however, appear to have a direct impact on fabric architectures, he said.
Collaborating with the PCI-SIG does not mean that the SFTA goes out of business right away. Miller said that while the PCI Express core standard for legacy applications will see support products arrive by early 2004, the Advanced Switching extensions will not be presented to the SIG as a draft until late this year, so products will not arrive before late 2004 or early 2005. In the meantime, the SFTA will help developers plan the transition from 2.5Gbps to 10Gbps switched interconnects.
StarGen will be providing the Advanced Switching group with some of its concepts on embedding QoS parameters, including credit-based flow schemes, directly into fabrics. It also will present concepts for high-availability switching and for integrating TDM traffic into a switched infrastructure.
"We were getting a lot of suggestions from folks like Agere, NMS, and Brooktrout on supporting TDM services and the H.110 bus in a fabric. But two years ago, there was also a lot of push back from the [Internet Protocol] community about how we did not need to support ATM [asynchronous transfer mode] or TDM," Miller said. "One trend we have seen since the downturn is that TDM will be with us for a long time to come."
StarGen and Intel will conduct some joint demonstrations at this fall's Intel Developer Forum. Miller emphasized that Intel has made no financial investment in StarGen, however.
Aligning the SFTA's future work with that of PCI Express will have some interesting competitive effects. Rather than position its products against the raft of fabric startups - such as TeraCross Inc., Zagros Networks Inc., and Transwarp Networks Inc. - seeking to fill the market gap left by the demise of Power X Networks Inc., StarGen sees its competitive base moving more to the fabric specialists that grew up inside the PCI bridging world. Among them are Tundra Semiconductor Corp. and PLX Technology Inc.
Miller said PCI once was seen as an interconnect that could not handle core communications duties, including metro aggregation, and core routing. But the expansion of PCI's capabilities through PCI Express Advanced Switching, combined with the decline in business for backbone telecommunications equipment, means that the important segment of the interconnect market has shifted to realms addressable by PCI Express.
"Certainly there will be some high-end switching functions in telecom backbones that will require specialized fabrics, but right now, that does not look like a market that will have a large number of players for many years," Miller said.
- Loring Wirbel
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