Cavium Announces WLAN Security Chips

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Cavium Networks this week formally announced its new family of wireless security coprocessors. The NITROX wireless products are designed specifically to support 802.11 security standards, now and the future.

“The manufacturers of access points and switches would and could, during development, integrate a processor like ours,” says Mike Scruggs, product manager at Cavium Networks.

Scruggs says the various flavors of NITROX chips offload the heavy lifting for advanced security — everything from RC4 for TKIP to cipher block chaining to generate a MAC for authentication with AES — in current and future WLANs. These chips are made with the future of WLAN security in mind.

“The IEEE is evolving and eventually will conclude the 802.11i specification,” says Scruggs, referring to the spec under development that will replace Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and the incremental Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), and will mandate use of Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES requires separate processing power to work.

Aruba Networks, was Cavium’s first wireless customer. The company is already using NITROX in the Aruba 5000 modular Wi-Fi switch. The product goes for $16,995 in its base configuration.

“Aruba was our first customer; they drove development of the NITROX line,” says Scruggs. “When they refer to accelerated security, that’s us.”

The NITROX products architecture is implemented by stitching together security primitives in hardware with internal microcode, according to Scruggs. Thus, any NITROX product can be made to have the “personality” needed via microcode changes– it can be added for IPsec, for SSL, or wireless as needed. Same hardware, different code. The higher-end chips can load multiple, independent microcodes.

The NITROX line is made up of ten products, any of which can be used in wireless applications. Aruba is using one of the higher end products, but considering a lower power and lower price chip for use in future, lower-end products. The line ranges from Lite versions for low power consumption, with applications from 50 Mbps to 1Gbps in a PCI bus interface, to the six full NITROX products, going from 1Gbps to 4Gbps, with interfaces for PCI, PCI-X, or HyperTransport. They company can provide chips and reference designs with software. Volume production will begin late in 2003, but samples are available now.

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