LVL7 Systems is developing a next-generation distributed software architecture for what is called “stackable Ethernet” switches and is working with Broadcom in the process.

As opposed to “fixed Ethernet,” stackable Ethernet allows up to 48 ports for users and applications on one switch instead of multiple switches. So when switches are added, companies can still manage them with just one IP address, thus reducing management costs and incrementally increasing efficiency.

“As applications, users and distant multimedia — hit the network, the infrastructure needs to grow, so companies will buy another switch and add, then they’ve managed two, three, four, even five switches,” explains Kishore Jotwani, vice president of marketing for LVL7. With stackable Ethernet, “You keep stacking without having to pay large dollar amounts and grow as the needs of the infrastructure do.”

Over the past year, LVL7 has been developing new technology called FastPath Distributed Software Architecture, using Broadcom’s Application Programming Interface (API) and driver technology to partition stacking functionality between the silicon, driver and networking application. FastPath is being integrated with the latest generation of StrataXGS silicon from Broadcom, an Irvine, CA-based provider of Ethernet switching silicon solutions.

“Effectively we’re providing equipment manufacturers with the ability to deploy Ethernet infrastructure that supports the next generation of distributed architecture–,” Jotwani says of LVL7’s FastPath. “What’s happening is the convergence of all these different types of traffic, and a new generation of applications has to be supported on infrastructure that scales from applications, users and processing–. LVL7 has developed a system architecture on Broadcom Ethernet switching to develop a stackable Ethernet environment.”

The Ethernet stackable switch solutions enabled by FastPath will allow applications to reside at the edge of the network, LVL7 says. By adding more switches to the stack to, it will support applications like security, VoIP, wireless mobility, broadband access, digital music and video on demand.

‘Scalable intelligence’

This new generation of Ethernet stackable switches also will allow network and IT managers to expand their networks by adding additional switches to existing stacks without network disruption, the company says.

“By enabling a cost effective dynamic network architecture to support the ever growing demand in complexity of user applications, LVL7 has developed the vision of expanding the concept of ‘intelligence at the edge’ to ‘scalable intelligence across the edge’,” said Albert Bender, CEO of LVL7. “Distributed applications on distributed edge switches provide the network administrator the greatest flexibility at the lowest cost. Broadcom, with its feature rich StrataXGS silicon, is the ideal partner to deliver this vision.”

The stackable Ethernet switch emerged from recent developments in switching silicon, combined with systems software and a silicon driver that allowed networks to be reconfigured without rebooting individual switches. Broadcom says its StrataXGS silicon family has the features required to design such a stackable Ethernet switch as LVL7 has done.

“We’re pleased to see LVL7 take full advantage of the Broadcom Switch Software API,” said Ford Tamer, VP of Broadcom’s networking infrastructure group. “The combination of Broadcom’s advanced API and driver technology with LVL7’s FastPath Distributed Architecture will enable our common customers to significantly improve time-to-market for next-generation stackable Ethernet switches.”

The integration of LVL7’s FastPath software and distributed architecture with the Broadcom StrataXGS product family will be available for both the VxWorks and Linux operating systems, the companies say.

Another product on the way

In the meantime, Morrsiville-based LVL7 preparing for a new product announcement that it will make at the ElectronicaUSA event in late March in San Francisco. Jotwani declined to provide any further details on the launch.

He did say LVL7 continues to grow, as it reaps the benefits of its $15.8 million cash infusion received last September. The Series B round of funding was led by Carlyle Venture Partners, the venture arm of The Carlyle Group and also included previous investors Gabriel Ventures Partners, H.I.G. Ventures and Research Triangle Ventures, all of whom participated in an $8.5 million-round a year earlier.

“It positioned LVL7 very well in the merchant IP software business,” Jotwani says of the funding. “–It will hopefully drive us towards profitability.”

The funding has supported LVL7’s expansion into California, Taiwan and other parts of Asia over the past 3-4 months, Jotwani says, adding that the company currently employs about 80 people around the world, and is positioned to support new customer growth in Asia and Europe.

“LVL7 is financially positioned very well, we have a new networking platform for the future, and we’re expanding sales worldwide,” he says. “We’re really looking for a successful 2004.”

LVL7 Systems: