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IBM Fuels Its Network Flame With New Chips and R&D Center >BY Phil Jones.

Two days after exiting network systems manufacturing and selling switch and router technology patents to Cisco Systems, IBM says it still plans to be a supplier of "supreme" network communications technology to the industry, and announced new products and a new Communications Research and Development Center.

Yesterday's statement by the company still leaves unanswered questions about what it has and hasn't sold to Cisco, but it does at least clarify that the company's chip-level babies haven't been thrown out with the systems level bathwater. Indeed, IBM will formally start shipping two key products to OEM customers next month, including leading telecoms and data switch manufacturers Alcatel, Newbridge Networks, and Nortel. And by year-end, it will be sampling a another new device, the IBM Processor for Network resources, aimed at the OC-12 (622 Mbps) high-speed interconnect and backbone network edge space, and which it says will be in OEM products by the second half of next year.

The IBM Packet Routing Switch, formerly code-named Prizma, and the IBM Network Processor, formerly Rainier, are the first two products in a range of next-generation network communication components which IBM is determined it will push into the merchant silicon channel ahead of rival products from MIPS and Intel. Apart from their predictably catchy new product names, there is little about the two switch fabrics which the OEM channel will not have heard of, since IBM has been touting them hard since first suggesting that its real networking future lay as OEM supplier at its own Cannes, France Net' 99 Conference last May.

Still, just a day after Intel fleshed out its own comms silicon road map, IBM wasn't going to miss an opportunity to emphasize what it sees as a yawning gulf between what it will deliver next month, and what the chip giant is still just announcing. The 28.4Gbps Packet Routing Switch, for instance, is now safely ahead of Intel's IXP 1200 in terms of time to market, and will immediately scale to 500Gbps in-system throughput "with more to come" according IBM wired communications director of marketing, Steve Longoria.

This should be enough to at least match early IXP iterations in terms of bandwidth, while the complementary IBM Network Processor will match its 10 embedded and C programmable RISC "pico processors" against the six RISC cores of the IXP. This should make it difficult for Intel to suggest that the cornerstone of its emerging Internet Exchange Architecture will be any more flexible or dynamically re-configurable than its IBM counterpart. Nevertheless, the match-up between Big Blue and Intel in the internet infrastructure technology market is likely to be bloody and protracted.

IBM's Longoria argues that IBM already has a lead, and possesses enough leading edge technology to keep it, pointing to his company's expertise in "silicon on insulator, silicon germanium and other tremendous technologies that our competitors simply don't have." The forward development of these technologies and others will now be driven by the new IBM Communications Research and Development Center, which is essentially an umbrella construct designed to concentrate comms related hardware and software technology expertise from across IBM's R&D centers in Haifa, Israel, and the New York and Yorktown Heights and Raleigh Triangle facilities in the US, and its Swiss laboratories in Zurich. IBM could not supply a figure for the number of comms researchers gathered under this new umbrella, but it is unlikely to be matched by too many other organizations outside of the Bell Laboratories resource of Lucent Technologies.
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Author:Jones, Phil
Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 3, 1999
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