Start-up company Greenfield Networks claims to have produced the next generation Gigabit Ethernet switch by adding full IPv6, MPLS and unicast/multicast routing - in just three chips.

Gary Smerdon, Greenfield's president and CEO, says that commercial products based on the Packetry technology should reach the market around September or October, and that it will bring enterprise-class Gigabit to under $50 a port. The 32-port GH3032 switch is being pitched as a reference design to help other companies design and manufacture switches around its silicon.

Explaining the switch's IPv6 addition, Smerdon said: "IPv6 is layer 3, so it just goes through a layer 2 switch. IPv6 is becoming predominant for many reasons. The US Department of Defence wants it for security, to see who the end node is, and in China, Korea and other countries there is a shortage of IP addresses." Electronics companies such as Sony are keen on IPv6 too, because they foresee a day when all sorts of non-computer devices will be network connected and need IP addresses, such as phones and household appliances, he added.

The GH3032 also helps with future proofing, Smerdon promised. "Products deployed in 2005/6 will be active for five to seven years, where in the past is was three years, which made it almost a disposable item."

Greenfield was founded by the ex-Cisco team that designed the Catalyst 3500 family and others. Smerdon says it has already shipped chips to customers in five countries, and has another reference design on the way for a chassis-based core switch.

Packetry's high port density, packing 32 Gigabit Ethernet ports into a 1U box, is also very important, he adds. "The trends we see are Gigabit to the desktop - it's now being shipped as standard in notebooks as well as desktops - and Ethernet phones. In Asia we hear discussion of IP television, for example in apartment complexes. The adoption rate at the desktop is faster for Gigabit than for 100M. The main reason is that PCs purchased for business have Ethernet on the motherboard now, so the decision was made for you by Dell, Intel and so on."

Packetry comprises three chips: a shared memory fabric and a packet engine on the supervisor board, and an intelligent multiplexer on the linecard. Smerdon claims that the closest competitor is a Cisco box that uses seven chips instead of three.