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Tuesday, 26 February 2008 10:22

Cisco tantalises with mystery chip and mystery event

Cisco has announced a new chip: the fruits of half a decade of research by a team of 100 engineers hailing it as "the most advanced piece of networking silicon in the world," but giving no indication what it intends to do with the device. However it could just be a prelude a big Cisco announcement scheduled for 4 March.
Cisco claims that the new chip, dubbed the QuantumFlow Processor, is "the industry's first fully integrated and programmable networking chipset...[that] consists of 40 cores on a single chip and can perform up to 160 simultaneous processes."

However, other than saying that QuantumFlow is "uniquely geared for today's network environments and several generations beyond what is currently available in network processors," Cisco has said nothing about how it will be used.

It seems likely that it has been developed for a role in core network routing platforms. Cisco claims that many of the same engineers who developed the Cisco Silicon Packet Processor (SPP) for the Cisco Carrier Routing System (CRS-1), Cisco's top end core router for carrier networks which debuted in 2004, also worked on the Cisco QuantumFlow Processor. It says that continued advancements in technology, design and expertise enabled the team to increase the transistor density on the chip from a then networking-industry-leading 185 million on the Cisco SPP to more than 800 million on the QuantumFlow processor.

"Such density puts it in the tier of some of the most advanced processors developed by leading semiconductor companies," Cisco says. Some 40 patent applications have been submitted as result of the QuantumFlow's development.

Cisco's reticence about applications for the new device, or even its commercialisation status have fuelled speculation that it will provide the enabling technology for some major new networking initiative to be announced by Cisco on 4 March in a global online event for which anyone can register and participate at which Cisco promises to "unveil an important new breakthrough innovation that will make "life on the network will be better for everyone."

It will feature CEO John Chambers and other leading Cisco executives who will "share an exciting new solution for enterprise and service provider companies." It will be held online across multiple time zones and is aimed at "network uber-users". According to Cisco, theses are people who "use the network to perform ultra-interactive feats (in real an virtual worlds) anytime, anywhere using any devices [and who] play a really big part in the human network collaborating with others around the globe to do stuff that's mind boggling, period."

For the normally straight-laced Cisco the registration sight is uncharacteristically quirky and humorous. It features five characters: Easter Bunny, The Stork, Santa, Unicorn, and Cupid who each appear in short videos bemoaning the difficulties of adjusting their roles to the demands created by new networking technologies.

As one blogger observed: "It kind of seems like Cisco is learning a little bit of showmanship from Steve Jobs over at Apple. Yes, this really feels like the hoopla conjured up by Apple before one of Steve Jobs' famous keynotes." Responding to speculation on another blog site, a Cisco PR person said: "Seriously, possibly biggest Cisco cross [service provider / enterprise] launch of the year, a real game-changer for the industry."


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