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Chip Startup Bursts on 10 GbE Scene

A stealthly, Silicon Valley chip startup is looking to shake up the 10 gigabit Ethernet space (10GbE) when it debuts today.

NetXen managed to stay under the radar during its product development and since its four-year inception, while lining up blue chip customers such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Essentially a networking chip designer, NetXen is selling its chips and boards as an OEM  supplier to companies that incorporate them into commercial products.

NetXen's line of 10GbE  intelligent network interface controller (NIC) line is being used by HP and IBM for products in development that promise significant performance gains and energy costs savings over the more commonly used one gigabit NICs. NetXen also lays claim to having the first single-chip 10GbE PCI Express and first dual-port 10GbE solutions.

"NetXen is entering the 10 GbE market at a a good time because it hasn't really taken off," Bob Wheeler, analyst with the Linley Group, told internetnews.com. "The only question is how rapidly the transition is to 10GbE because most vendors today use a one gigabit backplane." IBM for one, plans to use the NetXen solution in its Blade Blade Center H (High Performance) system.

The need for higher bandwidth performance isnt just confined to file sizes in digital video. But it is a major driver. Intel estimates, for example, that there will be 50 million IPTV  subscribers by 2010, and there have been hundreds of millions of the Skype VoIP program downloaded. "Content is expanding to available bandwidth," Vikram Karvat, senior director of marketing at NetXen, told internetnews.com.

NetXen is distinguishing its products as an "intelligent" NIC because they are software and firmware upgradeable versus other products that are hardwired.

"We're providing additional functionality so the system can grow and adapt," said Karvat. "This gives us intelligence and flexibility in data centers going forward. The IT manager today has to rip and replace hardware. But with a firmware upgrade you can maintain your investment and adapt to changing business needs."

Although Dell is not officially a NetXen customer, the two companies are in discussions. Dell's chief technology officer said in a statement that "NetXen will help us drive the industry from 1 Gigabit to 10 Gigabit Ethernet with intelligent NIC solutions."

HP plans to use NetXen in its volume ProLiant and BladeSystem products. Paul Perez, vice president, SNI, industry standard servers at HP said the higher performance and other features will bring the next-generation datacenter to enterprise and mid-tier customers.

Karvat said NetXen is probably the third of fourth significant entrant in the 10GbE market. "But now customers are moving from kicking the tires on this new technology to how to deploy it. We weren't first, but we listened to customers and they've asked for certain price points and programmability so we think we've really built the foundation for a volume business."

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based private company includes numerous chip, software and server engineers from such companies as Broadcom, Cisco, Conexant, HP, Intel and Sun and has over a dozen patents pending on its technology. Investors include Accel Partners, Benchmark Capital and Integral Capital.

Analyst Wheeler expects the market for products based on NetXen's technology will pick up considerably in 2007 as copper cabling solutions for 10GbE emerge.