A new architecture for the connections between interfaces on a network switch will let equipment makers build platforms that grow with customer needs for seven to 10 years, according to start-up Dune Networks.\nAGOURA HILLS, CALIF. - A new architecture for the connections between interfaces on a network switch will let equipment makers build platforms that grow with customer needs for seven to 10 years, according to start-up\u00a0Dune Networks.The semiconductor company is developing a switch fabric processor and components that work with it, so a switch maker can upgrade one part of its system and know that features already implemented on another part will be able to take advantage of the upgrade, says CTO Ofer Iny, one of several former MRV Communications executives leading the company.Although a weak economy has slowed the adoption of new network interfaces, Iny says carriers and corporations will need vastly greater network capacity within the next several years. Traditionally, they have moved to the next generation of performance by buying new switch platforms because existing platforms haven't supported the new levels of performance, he says.What's inside\nDune's Scalable Architecture for Networking Devices (SAND) includes a switch fabric, ingress\/egress traffic management and scheduling. The architecture supports many different kinds of interfaces and lets system makers design switches in which each port has different ways of scheduling and buffering traffic. This works because all the pieces were designed together and can talk to each other in their own language, Iny says.Different kinds of interfaces, such as ATM, TDM and Ethernet, have different requirements for traffic scheduling. With the Dune architecture, different treatment for various streams of traffic would be carried through the switch fabric, instead of the switch fabric simply providing a "dumb" interconnect among the blades. And because those traffic management capabilities are supported by the fabric, they also can be supported across multiple linked switch chassis, letting system makers scale up their platforms beyond one box.Dune also aims to provide these capabilities with a small number of chips through greater integration. Fewer chips mean more ports can fit on a switch and the system will require less electricity.Service providers are tired of having to buy new hardware every time they want to migrate to the next level of performance, says Jag Bolaria, a switch-fabric analyst for The Linley Group. On the other hand, there are many switch fabric vendors and probably other ways of solving the problem, he says.Some system designers might maintain that building a large amount of bandwidth into the switch fabric from the start can solve the problem. The role of merchant silicon vendors such as Dune might be growing as network equipment makers face tighter budgets, Bolaria adds. While a strong vendor such as Cisco might be able to continue handling much of its own development, even big names such as Nortel might turn to outside vendors, he says.SAND is expected to ship in sample quantities by year-end, Iny says.Lawson is a correspondent with the IDG News Service's San Francisco bureau.