What the world needs now�is a new operating system? Maybe not for the CPU, but certainly for today's new network processors, says Peter Manzo, V.P. Business Development, Teja Technologies Inc.
According to Manzo, network processors (NPUs) represent a major shift in hardware technology--where they are fast becoming an attractive alternative to the ASIC. Why? "An NPU collapses lots of processing and memory elements and a lot of logic into a single piece of silicon that would otherwise be designed into a proprietary card for a piece of network equipment," says Manzo, "This offers manufacturers a way to speed their time-to-market via a programmable, off-the-shelf system-on-a-chip geared for network applications."
Compare the NPU to developing an ASIC, says Manzo. "ASICs are expensive, can take from 12 to 14 months to make and are often outdated when they're completed. To add to this agony, the resulting application is not even portable to other products." For these reasons, Manzo says NPUs provide a compelling alternative for manufacturers looking to cut time and costs as they develop network edge equipment.
A new OS for the network processor chip
So, what's missing in this happy NPU picture? Manzo claims it's the OS--one that is designed specifically for the network processor chip. "All other operating systems that the world has produced are very broad market, and non-specific in the kinds of applications they are used to develop. Now we have the network processor, which is a more complex beast to program--and there's no software available for it."
The absence of NPU-specific software is causing pain in the marketplace, contends Manzo. To relieve this pain, Teja has developed a complete software operating system, designed specifically for network processors. "With Teja's NPOS the game has changed--for now systems vendors can quickly develop and run their new networking software applications on the network processor chip."
A vision of off-the-shelf embedded applications for network equipment vendors
In the world according to Teja, systems vendors will soon tap into a wide range of standard off-the-shelf embedded software and hardware to design most of their advanced network equipment, says Manzo. "This includes everything from set-top boxes, cable and DSL modems to the equipment needed to support the core of the network, to what is today the Internet, to what is today the telephone network. It's worldwide, it's mind boggling--and the market is six billion people."
So where did Teja--founded in 1998, named after the Sanskrit term that means brilliant, as in very illuminating--get such big time insight? Manzo credits Teja's founder and CTO, Dr. Akash Deshpande, with the patented technology and fresh thinking that underlies Teja's products and strategy.
"Akash received his doctorate from U.C. Berkeley in 1994, where he did his research on finite state computing theory. Technically speaking that's 'hybrid automata theory,' which is a fancy way to describe computer theory for both discrete processes, such as communication protocols, and continuous processes, such as the passage of time," says Manzo, "It's this theory that underlies what goes on in a communications network--which is why Teja's technology is extremely applicable to developing today's network communications systems."
Teja's software platform cuts development time and costs
Manzo says that Teja's software platform greatly reduces the development effort that systems developers must take on--allowing them to focus on developing their own value-add to the products they bring to market.
Teja's software platform consists of the Teja NPOS and applications, which are comprised of three elements, says Manzo. The first of these elements is Teja's NPOS--a software system that controls the hardware resources of network processors. "This system integrates the programming environment for the data plane, control plane and management plane of embedded network systems, which is critical to systems vendors. Why critical? Because up until now most software that goes into network equipment has been management and control plane software only.
"All other OS' today focus on the management plane and control plane exclusively. In contrast, Teja's OS integrates the programming of all three planes. This is key because the data plane is the forwarding plane--the operation of the router that moves information from one point to another. Our software takes care of this forwarding plane functionality for systems vendors, which gives them more time to develop their own product value-add" The Teja software platform also includes a set of graphical software development tools, based on finite state tools, that helps systems vendors develop software for network equipment. "These graphical tools work hand in glove with Teja's NPOS, allowing developers to do very high level coding. While most software development tools today are not market specific--it's one size fits all, using the C language--Teja has taken a unique approach. We've developed a language that has very graphical elements that are specific to building embedded network application software," says Manzo, "It's a language that's based around finite state machines, and is customized to the requirements of network applications. Most important, the very graphical form of this language allows developers to express an algorithm, a software program, as a set of finite state machines--all basically expressed in little pictures. So, it's a very friendly language and extremely helpful to someone writing software for a piece of networking equipment."
The third element of Teja's software platform is an embedded network application, designed as a framework for building network edge equipment, says Manzo. "By this, I mean any equipment that goes around the edge of the network, where all the services are originated and provisioned--such as cable, DSL and Ethernet access, subscriber line access, wireless access and things such as edge router and edge switches and security boxes, like VPN.
Manzo says Teja's embedded network application is delivered as an extensible framework, providing the baseline functionality required in many network edge products. "So we're building all that basic, more mundane stuff--all that framework stuff that is repeated over and over again in lots of different edge equipment devices. This enables our customers to skip these low-level development tasks to focus fully on their true value add."
Intel Communications Fund invests in Teja
In October 1999, Manzo says the Teja team concluded that Intel Capital was high on the company's list as a possible investor. "We decided that Intel would be one of the winners in this (network processor) marketplace--so we made two separate inquiries."
For starters, Manzo contacted Intel Capital's website. "I sent email saying that Intel really ought to talk to us since we're doing very interesting work they should be interested in," says Manzo. Independently, one of Teja's seed investors found a contact that was associated with Intel Capital who put Manzo directly in contact with Intel Capital. Once Teja and the Intel Capital team met, there was instant understanding between them, says Manzo, "They got the picture of what we were up to immediately."
After meeting with Teja, the Intel Capital team saw that Teja offered a software platform that would help systems developers take advantage of the benefits of Intel's network processors--allowing them to develop new applications for Intel's IXP1200 Network Processor at a significantly increased rate.
In addition, the team saw that Teja was an ideal candidate for an investment from the Intel Communications Fund--a fund that invests in companies supporting Intel's key programs and initiatives in voice and data communications, as well as wireless communications and computing efforts. For these reasons, the Intel Communications Fund invested in Teja in July 2000.
A synergistic working relationship
Today, Teja is a leader in this market segment with the introduction of their network specific processor software while at the same time addressing the industry need for a standard platform for NPUs.
"We are delivering solutions for the Intel� IXP1200 Network Processor and Intel's new IXA Software Development Kit and development environment. We also have plans to support all leading network processors." According to Manzo, systems vendors can use Teja's NPOS and embedded network applications to accelerate their product development cycles by creating software for networking equipment based on network processors in less than half the time it takes with current technology.
Manzo says that the investment with Intel has been excellent thus far--and that Teja has benefited well beyond the expected monetary rewards associated in an investment relationship. These benefits span the gamut from introductions to other companies and Intel's own sales force--to advice on Teja's business plan and strategies, as well as key hiring decisions, says Manzo.
"Some of the introductions that Intel has made for us have been to Intel Capital Portfolio companies, who have since become Teja's potential partners or customers. Intel's sales and Intel� IXA Component Operation organizations have also introduced us to prospective customers--which is extremely valuable. In fact, Teja has had a fair amount of exposure in Intel's field (sales) organization--enough to yield a significant number of referrals to potential customers from Intel's sales force. This is absolutely great, since Teja's current business plan calls for us to focus predominantly on closing Intel's IXP1200 customers in the next year," says Manzo.
In addition, Manzo says the Teja team has received some referrals they did not expect--which have helped Teja in hiring the right talent. "As we're trying to make the best hiring choices, Intel Capital has suggested recruiters, public relations firms and has given us advice on our choices. In one instance where Teja was trying to recruit a candidate for a director position, Intel Capital was helpful in selling that person on the position. This kind of input and assistance is very important to Teja."
Manzo says that Teja also offers Intel a key benefit that is needed as Intel matures into the network processor marketplace--and that is Teja's NPOS. "From a business operational standpoint we will enable Intel to sell more of their network processor chips because we are a key enabling technology for companies that are considering network processors," says Manzo.
There is some push back from the market because of the absence of good software solutions for network processors, claims Manzo. "We are that solution--and Teja's products will help stimulate a tremendous amount of sales in this class of product. For this reason, we have a very positive, synergistic relationship with Intel in this emerging marketplace."