Friday, November 30, 2007

Wi-Fi for sensor nets?

That's the case GainSpan made over lunch to me the other day. Zigbee, the startup claims, lacks links to network management software such as HP's OpenView and IBM's Tivoli. Existing Zigbee nodes from the likes of Ember, Dust, Crossbow and others lack the interoperable gateways prevalent in the 802.11 world. And some apps need the 1-2 Mbits/s GainSpan's 11b/g Wi-Fi chip can crank out when needed—and still deliver the 3-5 year battery life required of a sensor node.

I hope to dig into this a bit further next week. If you are working in sensor nets with Zigbee, Wi-Fi or some other net, I'd like to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment or email me at

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Intuitive Networks

I am very familiar with the automated data center concepts promoted by the likes of IBM and HP under titles like Autonomic Computing and Lights Out Computing. But it wasn't until I got a copy of the in-house technical magazine from Bechtel Communications that I had heard about a similar idea in networking.

Jake MacLeod, the affable CTO over there, has an excellent article in the issue describing the concept in detail. He says an intuitive network includes:

* Base station "hotels" that house many types of transceivers
* Sophisticated multiple antenna subsystem
* Sensor networks to help determine when to reallocate resources
* Lotsa network management software

It could take decades to learn how to build really great intuitive networks, Jake suggests. Along the way, engineers have lots to learn about interconnected networks of networks that handle personal identity securely and handle location data across distributed system. There are also big challenges in distributed quality of service.

Sounds like the folks at Bechtel and a few other dozen companies have their work cut out for them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No new wires?

According to a survey released today by Parks Associates half of the homes that link a computer to a stereo or TV use RCA and S-video cables. Hey whatever happened to the no-new-wires initiative?

Apparently what happened was a slew of mediocre and hard-to-install digital media adapters and networks. What's even worse is that only nine percent of homes using broadband had links between a computer and a stereo and only four percent hand links between a computer and TV. In the ago of the iPod and YouTube, the space between the PC and the entertainment center looks like the Grand Canyon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Battling bottleneck breakers

Rambus and IBM are squaring off on whether it's better to bust through the memory bottleneck with new signaling or packaging technologies. Both approaches look like contenders in the 2010 timeframe.

Our EE Times report today talks about Rambus' plans for demonstrating at its Tokyo developer conference this week a 32x clock multipler of 500 MHz memory channels. The channels enable 16 Gbits/s transfers and ultimately terabyte/second throughput between a microprocessor and its main memory.

IBM has shown proof points for 3D stacks that could enable a great gob of SRAM to sit on top of a multi-core microprocessor linked by fast direct-metal connections. Analysts said that could hit the market in 2010-class Power CPUs.

Other shoes are yet to fall. Sematech said this spring it planned to detail a market roadmap for 3D stacks before the end of the year. Jedec defines the standards for memory interconnects, so it has a major voice here. The good news is there is a diversity of good work on this nagging problem.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Intel's SoC mortar

Hello to those of you beginning to stray back into business blogdom in anticipation of Black Monday, the day we saddle up again after the nice long Thanksgiving weekend. Hope the break was good for you. I got in some great music, but had to spend waaaay to much time dealing with car issues—alas!

I am starting off my week asking for help. Intel has got the system-on-chip religion as I noted in my last wrap up from IDF. What I don't know is what interconnects they plan to standardize on for linking silicon IP blocks. Maybe Intel itself hasn't decided.

I know Intel will choose a handful of internally and externally developed interconnects, and I know they are reaching out to third party IP block suppliers they want to work with. Got any details to share about their chosen interconnects and preferred IP partners? Email me at with your best insights before you down another turkey sandwich!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Of birds and flowers

OK, it's time to take a gratitude break--and start marinating my turkey. I may be a little challenged doing the former job today because I had to just put my car in the shop and may not be able to get to the San Jose Turkey Trot tomorrow to benefit local charities…OK so I have a car to put in the shop, I already made the donation online and I can go jogging here in Campbell anytime I want, thank you.

BTW, I heard a wonderful interview with author and educator Jonathan Kozol on NPR Sunday night. Among other things he noted it is important to make social justice systemic, not just seasonal. He provides and excellent example of someone walking the talk.

I hope you have a good break, find things to be grateful for and a way to give back to your favorite cause. For anyone looking for an outlet, Intel has started a program where it will donate a buck to Boys and Girls Clubs every time someone plants a virtual sunflower in their online garden.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dialing in on phoneline

I caught up with Rich Nessin, president of the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance yesterday. The interview helped round out the pictures I have been getting lately from the conferences of the Multimedia over Coax Alliance last week and the HomePlug group last month.

My take away is that everybody still has a real shot at stardom, but MoCA seems to have slightly more momentum. Verizon is deploying MoCA as fast as it can, and Comcast and Cox coming on slowly late next year.

HPNA is not out of it by any means. AT&T adds as many as 10,000 new IPTV subscribers using a week using HPNA, and five or six new telcos will jump on the bandwagon in 2008, Nessin said.

I'll believe that when I see it. What's more the group badly needs a second source of silicon now that Broadcom and Conexant have basically dropped HPNA products and are gearing up MoCA chips.

Powerline has cards to play, too. Motorola said last week it expects to get powerline into set-top boxes as soon as the IEEE 1901 standard is set, perhaps in the spring. Europe is the big driver here.

Set-top and service companies are demanding home nets support 400 Mbit-Gbit data rates over the next several years and get integrated into SoCs to drive low cost. None of the three camps have that today, but MoCA may have a slight edge getting there based on last week's conference where I heard about two chip makers saying they will deliver SoCs in 2009 or later. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Can HDMI become a network?

Thanks to a reader of my EE Times blog for pointing out to me some recent slides from presentations created for financial analysts by Silicon Image, the HDMI chip designer. The slides suggest a possible wrinkle in the story I overheard about Silicon Image being in stealth mode with a new concept in home networking.

There is nothing very explicit in the foils. However, a couple slides talk about a Personal Entertainment Network the company aims to get off the ground in 2008. It describes this so-called PEN as "an architecture for securely moving digital media in a home network, [enabling] any device to display to any display in the personal entertainment domain. The Personal Entertainment domain is unique to each household and includes mobile devices."

Hmmm, sounds to me like Silicon Image may be wrapping some new software, and perhaps some additional security features, around its interface chips in hopes of creating a broader service that could tempt OEMs to standardize on their products across a range of devices. The company may even take the notion directly to end users as an extension of its Simplay effort that was initially aimed at making sure HDMI devices worked through interoperability problems.

Clearly Silicon Image is riding the growth curve of TVs and related devices shifting the high def. And they are very vocal about mobile systems of all sorts from digital cameras to cellphones being their next big growth area. But can they carve out a network play from what is essentially a relatively expensive content protection interface loved by Hollywood that some operators and OEMs would rather design around via ultrawideband or 60 GHz radio links? This could be a bridge too far, especially considering the company has gone through some recent management changes. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Heat's on for Moca, too

The folks at the Multimedia over Coax conference were mum on their road map this week except to say that they have kicked off a MoCA 2.0 effort. Their customer base, however, was somewhat more vocal.

"The next-generation MoCA spec needs to support about 400 Mbits/s within two years and a Gbit in four years," said Mark Wegleitner, chief technology officer of Verizon Communications in a keynote speech. Verizon is installing fibre-to-the-home systems that can hit up to 400 Mbits/s today, and it can't let the current 175 Mbit/s MoCA 1.1 technology be a bottleneck for long.

Jed Johnson (right), senior director of systems engineering at Motorola which supplies set-top boxes to Verizon, echoed the call for more bandwidth. "There needs to be a gigabit path in the home," said Johnson.

What with startup Gigle Semi and the ITU standard in the works potentially delivering a Gbit/s PHY next year, MoCA has some pretty clear marching orders.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's cookin' at MoCA Con

The fall in Austin is sweet and so are all the stories rolling out of the first MoCA conference here. Comcast and Cox suggest they will roll out MoCA networking in a small way starting late next year, and chip makers agree that in the fragmented and confusing world of home networks, that's good news.

But off on the Texas horizon are a few new wrinkles. It seems everyone would like to see a single home network for all copper lines. Startup Gigle Semiconductor (Edinburgh, Scotland) hopes to offer just that sometime in 2008. Founded by execs from DS2 and STM, the company claims it will offer competitive, integrated silicon with two channels—one for powerline and the other handling any copper link (telephone lines, powerline, coax or a combo of any two) at PHY rates up to a Gbit/s. We shall see.

Over in Europe the ITU has been trying to hammer out a standard for a home net that could run on any copper media. Called, it has attracted participation from a broad group including Alcatel, Broadcom, BT, Gigle, Intel, Intellon, Panasonic, TI and Siemens. I'm looking for more details on this effort (what is the target data rate, QoS and status of the spec) if anyone can chime in with info.

One last hot tidbit: Silicon Image, the company known for its HDMI silicon, has kicked off some sort of home networking initiative of its own. I don't have any details about it but I'm hungry to learn more. Post a comment or drop me a note at

Gearing up silicon networks

Kudos to IEEE Micro for a solid issue on the topic of on-chip networks. The best article for my money is the report on the December 2006 Stanford workshop on this topic.

According to the report, the gathering identified a laundry list of technical challenges. Chip networks require at least ten times too much power and have far too high a latency. For example, they scoped out a theoretical chip design in the year 2015 using 256 cores and concluded it would use 20 percent of its 150W budget just on linking the cores.

What I thought was most useful here was the research agenda the group scoped out based on its analysis. They called for new encapsulation methods and libraries in design tools because the circuits and architectures used for silicon network are not compatible with today's CAD flows. Designers also will need formal verification methods and queuing analysis tools to replace simulation which will become inadequate.

They also said we need work on new low voltage signaling technologies, 3D stacking to reduce the length of on-chip wires, on-chip photonics that can be 15-20 times faster than today's wiring and tools that more accurately model traffic on these silicon systems. It's an ambitious agenda, but without these advances engineers won't be able to create tomorrow's multicore processors.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Déjà vu for Advanced Switching

Well, not exactly. Intel washed its hands of an effort to tailor PCI Express for the comms market, and they don't seem to be revisiting that decision.

However, as part of a deal selling off its IXP network processor technology to Netronome, Intel did make a point of insisting the startup adopt Intel's upcoming Quick Path Interconnect (QPI) for its next-generation IXP-based processors. QPI is Intel's answer to AMD's HyperTransport, a 6.4 Gbytes/s link replacing the Intel front-side bus in CPUs starting with the Nehalem generation in late 2008.

Don't expect QPI to try to replace tried-and-true network processor interfaces such as the SPI 4.2. It probably won't even give Interlaken, Cisco's proprietary interconnect, much of a run for its money. Nevertheless, Intel will leverage the link to try to get more design wins for x86 and IXP parts in comms.

Data centers call the cable guy

Now that data centers are gearing up for 10 Gbit and faster systems, people are starting to wonder how to physically link these boxes. Standard optics are too expensive, Infiniband CX4 cables are too limited in distance (and have other issues, too) and 10GBase-T links are too power hungry.

Enter a new assortment of active optical cables including Laserwire, a 10 Gbit serial option announced today (Nov. 12) by Finisar. At as little as 500mW per port, Laserwire is much lower power than even the most optimistic 10GBase-T projections for 2008. It is rated at 10 Gbits across 35 meters and may stretch further in the future. And it doesn't have the problem of no defined standard for powering a link like the Ethernet over CX4 option.

Finisar is throwing its hat in the ring even though it is not ready to say exactly when its product ships or at what price. That's because Intel and startups Luxtera and Quellan already have rolled out three other options to solve the 10G+ cable problem. Each approach has its trade offs.

The fact that they are all jumping into the market indicates there is a clear problem with no single clear solution yet. Watch this space.

Got a beef with your cable guy? Leave a comment here or drop me a line at

HDMI goes mobile

Silicon Image, Inc. has lowered power consumption on its latest HDMI transmitters, the SiI9022 and the SiI9024, designed for mobile devices such as digital cameras, portable media players, camcorders and mobile phones. The 85 MHz and 165 MHz parts can support resolution up to 720p and 1080i, consuming 50 mW for 720p/1080i and 80 mW for 1080p. The transmitters also reduce cost by integrating some controller functions. The chips are priced at $4.15-$4.84.

Back at CES in January, top computer makers such as Dell, HP and Intel threw their weight behind DisplayPort as the next-gen digital display interconnect with content protection. That left the world of TVs and other CE devices to HDMI.

With this move, the HDMI camp could extend its reach to tens if not ultimately hundreds of millions of new devices, but I don't expect it to help them make in-roads into notebooks and desktops. By the way, It's been nearly a year…so where are those DisplayPort chips and systems using them?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tracking 10G Ethernet

There will be a lot of hubbub about high-end interconnects at the Supercomputing 2007 conference this week. So I asked how many systems on the Top 500 list use 10 Gbit Ethernet links. It turns out, no one knows yet because the folks that compile the list still collect the data by asking whether interconnects are at the 100 Mbit or Gbit level, a sore spot they are moving to heal.

Meanwhile market researchers such as Dell Oro Group and The Linley Group estimate of the eight million servers that shipped in 2006, 90 percent used Gbit Ethernet. They believe about one million 10G ports or 50,000 10G Ethernet cards will ship in 2007, mostly in high-end Unix systems. That ain't much by Ethernet standards. Nevertheless, the same market watchers say Infiniband is growing about 40 percent a year and should hit sales of a million units in 2010, a breakneck pace for the more niche-y interconnect.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Friday Crock Pot Report

My apologies to readers of this blog for practically abandoning you all week. It has not been for a lack of things to say, but most of them have been embargoed for Monday's Supercomputing 2007 conference in Reno.

Much as I would enjoy the drive through Tahoe and to the Nevada desert, I will be in Austin next week at the MoCA conference. So look for some home net news here next week as I learn what I can from Comcast, Intel, Cisco, Verizon and other presenters there.

Meanwhile here's what's in the slow cooker this weekend getting ready to be served up on Monday morning:

News about Infiniband, 10 Gbit Ethernet and new options for trying to link up the 10G stuff emerging in the data center. I'll just note that all the emerging active cable options are an indication of a problem I don't think anyone has quite solved yet.

There will also bit little tidbits about HDMI improvements—hey, where are the DisplayPort chips?—as well as news on Intel's QuickPath Interconnect in comms and the latest revision of the Top 500 list.

I never even got to this week's news that included a new 10GE switch from Broadcom and Express Gen2 switches from IDT. And kudos to Atheros, one of the few Wi-Fi startups to cross the chasm. This week the company rolled out a single-chip 11n device and an integrated Bluetooth chip as well as a Gbit Ethernet controller. You've come a long way, baby.

So, here's hoping I get time for a little fun this weekend in between catching up on the interconnect news.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Give me iWarp speed, Scotty

Infiniband has a pretty comfortable position as the growing king of cluster interconnects right now, according to Bob Wheeler of market watcher The Linley Group. Gbit Ethernet has peaked in the Top 500 list of supercomputers, IB is stealing market share from Myricom and Quadrics and the 10G Ethernet bandwagon is bogged down in the mud, according to Wheeler.

He notes that neither Dell, HP nor IBM have started using iWarp chips from the likes of Chelsio and Net Effect in their mainstream servers yet. "Until the big OEMs start investing in the iWarp ecosystem, it is not going anywhere," Wheeler said.

I think I wrote my first story detailing the folks pulling together the iWarp standard back in 2001 or so. HP and other major OEMs were among the big backers then, but today HP is collaborating with Netxen, a 10GE vendor that won't support iWarp until next generation products come out.

Making matters worse for the 10GE crowd, Myricom is rolling out products using its own protocol over Ethernet, and Mellanox plans to support Infiniband on top of Ethernet as an alternative to TCP. "They are fragmenting an already small market," Wheeler said.

The flip side of the coin is that IB is not likely to extend far beyond high-end clustering apps, Ethernet will dominate LAN connections and 10GE will eventually go mainstream once 10GBase-T prices come down in a year or two. Chip designer Fulcrum is giving 10GE a little nudge forward with some new products rolled out today.

"Based on the numbers I've seen from systems integrators, it seems like IB has a significant price/performance advantage over 10GE now, but that will change rapidly as 10G E ramps into volume," Wheeler says.

So, at the end of the day, the IB folks may be crying "Beam me up, Scotty!"

Fibre Channel spinning down

I was briefed today by a storage array vendor switching from Fibre Channel to Serial Attached SCSI drives because, as they see it, that's the direction of the future in high performance, high reliability hard disks. More details next Monday when the embargo handcuffs come off, but it's worth noting the array vendor will keep using FC as an external link. When I checked in with a Seagate spokesman he said they see the same trend.

"FC will be around for years into the future because of the investment that companies have made, but it represents a fairly small portion of the overall interface choices...Although there will be a few companies that remain staunch fans and the FCIA pushes for higher speeds, SAS will grow to be the primary mission critical interface," he said.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The year of mobile maps?

For years, people have been predicting a world of location-based services thanks to a proliferation of GPS embedded in mobile systems. Maybe it will finally happen in 2008.

One of my colleagues over at the Automotive DesignLine notes that GPS is on a rapid rise in cars. And today iSuppli Corp. claims we are just past the start of the hockey stick ramp for GPS in cellphones.

Well, maybe. The FCC took a go-slow approach to its E911 mandate once seen as a driver for GPS in cellphones, and most handset makers used triangulation to save the costs of a full GPS implementation. But Qualcomm has been pushing hard on GPS since 2000 and Sirf Technology convened a summit on location services recently.

So maybe this is about to happen. Or maybe not. I know friends with their new iPhones have been particularly pleased about how that handset helps them access Mapquest on the road…so maybe handsets with real Internet access will supplant GPS phones before this trend really takes off. I vote for the latter. Why recreate something that's already working?