America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between. - Oscar Wilde
Everyone building high-end network hardware - basically, hotrods who process 10 GigE at line speeds for security and applications processing - seems to be gravitating to Cavium Networks OCTEON family of multi-core MIPS processors. GE Fanuc Embedded Sytems Motorola, NexTone, and RadiSys have all either shipped or announced products built around OCTEON and last week Intel and Cavium announced they would collaborate on optimized security and applications-oriented networking reference designs. C'mon, how often do you see Intel saying they'll play nice with another chip manufacturer?
Cavium is so hot because they've put anywhere from 1 to 16 (yes, sixteen) MIPS cores onto a single chip, along with integrated networking I/O and security and application hardware acceleration. They're claiming max instruction execution of 32.0 G per second if you are working with their 16 core CN5680; so in theory, they have processing time to burn if they're looking at a 10 GigE port at speed. You get to these cores through VxWorks and Wind River Linux.
If you're more of a security geek, Cavium can hook you up with the NITROX family of processors, optimized to do anywhere from 50 Mbps to 10Gbps of encryption bandwidth with 1K to 50K RSA/DH operations per second.
Anyone looking at building routers, switches, security appliances, gateways with smarts is looking at OCTEON and it looks like Cavium is solidly established a niche that Intel has yet to fill - hence the deal to do reference designs between Intel and Cavium products for things like networking, security, and communications appliances.
However, Cavium's single-core CPUs can be found in simpler, more mass market applications as well. NETGEAR's ProSafe SSL VPN concentrator uses a NITROX processor. In wireless applications, you can find their processors pared with Atheros and Airgo radios. Need digital media over coax? Cavium and Entropic have partnered to deliver an OEM reference platform for triple play CPE gateways. If you're more of a fiber type, Teknovus and Cavium have shown a reference design for an integrated EPON home gateway delivering 1 Gbps performance for supporting IPTV services with guaranteed QoS. Finally, if you need sub-100 Mbps to greater than 500 Mbps in a home broadband gateway, Jungo and Cavium have announced production-ready reference platform designs.
Wall Street types seem to like the company's prospects as well. Cavium did an IPO in May, with the stock pricing at $13.50 a share. Anyone lucky enough to get in on the offering and has held on to it would find that the stock closed at $24.21 a share at the close of business on Friday.
What does this all mean? If you don't go head to head with Intel and pick your niches right, you can actually make a living off of silicon. And if you are designing for the SOHO market, you don't necessarily have to use something out of Intel's catalog; Cavium and Analog Devices' BlackFin processor both examples of cost-effective processors showing up in devices today. µ
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