Chip startup Crimson Microsystems Inc. plans to make a splash by collapsing
most functions of a grooming or aggregation switch into one chip.
Crimson isn't revealing everything about its device, but it's clear the
company aims to outdo others in the framer business by integrating most
of the functions related to aggregation, grooming, and transport of data.
The chip will even include a control-plane CPU (see Crimson Microsystems
Framers are a busy market, with competitors including Agere Systems Inc.
(NYSE: AGR.A), Ample Communications Inc., Applied Micro Circuits Corp.
(AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC - message board), Cypress Communications Inc., Galazar
Networks Inc., Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX - message
board), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC - message board), Mindspeed Technologies
Inc., PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS - message board) and TranSwitch Corp.
(Nasdaq: TXCC - message board).
Essential elements of TDM switches, framers are already absorbing neighboring
functions in an attempt to make telecom equipment cheaper and more compact.
Crimson's device, for instance, packs a framer, a mapper, a pointer processor,
and a control-plane processor.
What makes Crimson different? The inclusion of a control-plane processor
is unusual. But Deepak Rana, Crimson CEO, says his key differentiator
is the quality of the integration offered. "Everybody talks about
this. Nobody does it," he says.
"[Crimson's] concentration is to do the things that appear in the
TDM block diagrams and do them at a higher degree of integration,"
says Allan Armstrong, analyst with RHK Inc. He thinks Crimson is doing
more than just glomming chips together, but he acknowledges that information
on just how the startup's moving beyond other framers is tough to get.
Details may arise in the first half of 2004, when a family of Crimson
chips called Ruby (get it? get it?) is set to sample. Volume production
is slated for 2005.
About the control-plane processor: It's a step other companies have considered
for years and even tried on occasion, but it hasn't proved practical.
"Everybody's using different processors, different software. It's
difficult to find the correct one," says Marek Tlalka, Ample vice
president of marketing [ed. note: and how ample is he?]. "If we had
a major lead customer ask for a specific processor and specific interfaces,
we might do it. Otherwise, you just end up putting extra cost into the
"A number of companies have looked at it, and it's not the technology
that stopped them. It's finding the right fit," says Richard Deboer,
CEO of Galazar.
Eventually, Crimson plans to roll data-plane processing into its chips
as well, says Rhondalee Donovan, analyst with Semico Research Corp. "That's
a trend we're seeing from several [processor] vendors," she says.
"A lot of those [control vs. data plane] demarcations are going to
go away in the next generation of design."
Crimson's integrated processor comes from Tensilica Inc., which, like
ARM Ltd. (Nasdaq: ARMHY - message board; London: ARM), sells processor
designs meant to be incorporated into others' chips. Crimson is dropping
hints at having some configurability in its chips, and the Tensilica processor
should help with that goal.
Crimson's seed funding came from chairman Ajaib Bhadare, a Cerent Corp.
founder. Crimson picked up another $12.5 million in July 2002 from Azure
Capital Partners, Clearstone Venture Partners, and Cadence Design Systems
Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading