Netronome Systems, a developer of high-speed packet inspection technology, is to enter the network processor market via a licensing deal with Intel for the latter’s IXP28XX product portfolio.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Netronome markets boards and software for deep packet inspection, flow analysis and application acceleration, selling into OEM customers in the security and performance monitoring sectors. Its boards actually run on the IXP28XX family of processors, so the deal with Intel is, prima facie, vertical integration of its product line.
However, it also opens up the network processing unit (NPU) market, estimated to be worth some $300m a year, to Netronome. Intel will continue to manufacture, sell into current customers and provide support for large customers on the IXP products, said Jarred Siket, Netronome’s senior VP of sales and marketing. Meanwhile we can promote them for new designs, in both existing and new customers, and our goal is to produce a next generation of high-end network processors.
Indeed, one of the arguments Netronome will be using to push its NPUs is precisely the fact that it will be providing a roadmap for future development of the IXP range. This is something that was lacking of late under Intel, given the latter’s avowed intent to focus back on its main business of CPUs.
Before Intel’s interest on taking the family further waned, however, it had won an estimated 25% share of the NPU market, and Netronome clearly feels it can position itself as a trustworthy successor to Intel in supplying the processors, apparently without much risk of upsetting existing customers on competitive grounds. Netronome itself is the only player in what is termed the acceleration card market to base its products on IXP chips, so none of the other companies using the family will see themselves as Netronome competitors, according to Siket.
The NPU space is a busy one, served by a multitude of small vendors offering specific functionality and frequently not even competing much with each other. Names in this market include Cavium, RMI, Ezchip and, to some extent Broadcom, though NPU is not its key focus.
With such a proliferation of vendors, Netronome may not suffer too much from having to follow on from Intel in this market, as customers may be used to buying from smaller specialists as well as big suppliers. Its traditional competitors in acceleration cards, meanwhile, such as Bivio, Endace and CloudShield are, in any case, already using someone else’s silicon other than Intel’s, so it may indeed be possible to keep the negative fallout from the IXP line’s move from Santa Clara to Pittsburgh to a minimum.