I tend to enjoy Allan Leinwand’s (bio below) posts in GigaOm. His latest post, Commodity Computing, Still the King, is on a topic that drives the “Chip Head” in me bananas. It’s so evil 👿 The fact that he is applying this trend to higher-end networking gear is yet another milestone/data-point indicating how powerful/pervasive “standard” CPU’s have become. (He focusses on x86 style as the high-end winner and mentions ARM as the appliance winner )
The use of “standard” CPUs in networking gear is not new news. Cisco’s high-volume Edge Routers were always defined by what a MIPS CPU could do and Handheld Appliances are defined by what an embedded ARM CPU core can do. Network Processors (NPs), ASICs, and ASSPs are deployed beyond the price/performance boundary of commodity/standard CPUs. The difference today is that these “volume” design techniques cover so much of the design space and that Moore’s Law is constantly driving up the design cost of NPs/ASICs/ASSPs.
Earlier this week I posted on how the iPhone is a collection of chips that include embedded ARM processors and tightly bound firmware. I’ll repeat that — Each chip vendors product is a combination of “commodity computing chip” based on ARM and “software“. The bluetooth guys, Cambridge Silicon Radio, are the poster children of this trend in chip products. The last time I checked they had >80% of their “chip” R&D people writing firmware. They have ~ 25 products for each “physical” chip. They absolutely own the analog & dsp techniques for Bluetooth and then sub-sub-sub-sub-segment their product-line with software.
This topic can branch in sooooo many directions. I’ll finish with the historical observation that in my 18 year career in chips the “volume” mode of design has morphed from — schematics, to Verilog/VHDL, to firmware/software.
Here is the brief bio included in GigaOm feeds.Allan Leinwand is a venture partner with Panorama Capital and founder of Vyatta. He was also the CTO of Digital Island.