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November - 2002 - issue > Entrepreneurship
Raising Arizona
Venkat Ramana
Sunday, October 27, 2002
DATAQUEST ANALYST, JEREMY DONOVAN, predicted last year that the security IC market appears ripe for consolidation. With many players, and many more joining the fray, he expected quite a few to wind up and not be found this year. Hifn Inc., which Donovan said commands an 80% share of the IPsec (Internet Protocol security) chip sector, has seen its market capitalization drop to $110 million, from around $500 million a year ago, according to company reports. “The current crop of merchant network processors is largely lacking proper hooks to allow for high-speed encryption and decryption,” says Eric Mantion, an analyst at InStat Inc. in Phoenix.“Security is, in many cases, an afterthought,” Mantion says. “A lot of first-generation network processors have an I/O to the physical-layer side and an I/O to the switch side. But a crucial problem is there's not a single network processor at this point that has a third fast I/O bus for a security processor to tie up to.”

Dwindling markets. Complex technical challenges. And scarce venture funding. Despite these seemingly unsurmountable hurdles, two young “techies” set out to play the market, in Tempe, Arizona. Today, Corrent Corporation has busted myths, crossed hurdles, and has landed its first client: big blue IBM. Just over two years old, Corrent is gaining quick traction with other OEM clients, and founders Satish Anand, Hemanshu Bhatnagar, and current CEO, Richard Takahashi are upbeat about revenues. “Increasing network bit rates have thrown a wrench into the designs of many companies that did just fine at slower OC-3 speeds,” says John Davis, chief systems architect at Corrent. “Once you get above OC-3 and start looking at gigabit rates, the architecture has to fundamentally change. Companies have been trying to add more and more cores to their chip to get more steam out of it. But you can't just keep making the same chip bigger.”

Tough Security Market

How did Corrent manage to work around these challenges? “We bring very strong cryptography technologies, and the experience in applying those technologies in silicon,” says Hemanshu Bhatnagar, a co-founder, who now leads the engineering as a vice-president. The core team brings skills and experience honed at VLSI Technologies (now Phillips Semiconductors), where Anand and Bhatnagar worked, prior to founding Corrent.

“Cryptography,” explains Anand, “is the term for privacy and authentication algorithms, that ensure secure information exchange over the Internet and private networks.” There are many public algorithms in the market: AES, RSA, DSA and so on, which are complex mathematical computations ensuring the three main needs in a transaction: functionality—that secures the process, authentication on either side to clear identities, and non-repudiation—which helps in ratifying the deal, so that neither buyer nor seller can claim that the transaction did not happen. Based on Internet standards, e-commerce security and network security has taken on greater importance, post 9/11.

E-communications environment that opens more network doors to both access and vulnerabilities and calls for a more pervasive approach to security. Instead of being layered onto networks as an afterthought or considered a necessity only for organizations with especially sensitive data, security capabilities are beginning to migrate into the core fabric of all network infrastructures.Having security measures embedded directly into network elements will ensure a certain degree of inherent protection in any communications network. From there, network managers can determine for themselves how to balance their degree of vulnerability with openness, cost, and administrative considerations by activating the security options that make sense for their organizations.

“Traditionally, security technology has been applied as an overlay to network infrastructures,” notes Russell Rice, Manager of Technical Marketing for Cisco’s security products. “But as networks grow and new types of services emerge—customer care, extranets, and e-learning, to name a few—we’re exposing data that has not been opened up in the past. This means that we need to address privacy and security on a much larger scale and at a more fundamental level.” Now that the same network devices used for connectivity are acquiring access control, authentication, and other security features, Rice notes, organizations can deploy secure networks that scale much more easily. Each of these capabilities plays a role in helping network managers deploy appropriate security measures within their organizations. Building security options directly into the connectivity infrastructure enables users to activate these features as required, rather than having to create a security strategy as a separate project—a task many enterprises have traditionally tended to delay.

Today, IPsec finds application in Virtual Private Networks (VPN), while the e-commerce transaction sector has adopted the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) standards.

Potential In Speed

“While telecommunications expanded and delivered high-speed capacity, the security enabling technologies could not keep up,” says Anand, who is now the CTO at Corrent. “We saw this as a good opportunity, and decided to bring our ASIC knowledge and silicon familiarity to work for us.”

With an initial investment of $9 million, Anand, Bhatnagar and Takahashi founded Corrent in Tempe. And within eighteen months, Corrent has delivered three silicon products and supporting software and hardware development solutions. “Corrent's silicon solutions are designed specifically to scale in performance with the capacity to encrypt and decrypt up to ten million packets per second to secure the exchange of electronic information within both public and private Internet Protocol (IP) networks,” says Anand. “Complete with reference designs, extensive software and hardware development kits, Corrent's Packet Armorä and Socket Armorä families include devices that cover both IPSec and SSL.”

“Our architecture reduces the burden imposed by the current generation of security solutions. This is achieved by offloading the system processor of all security-related processing while maintaining optical data rates. Providing this network transparency to system developers results in higher data throughput and greatly simplifies network system design,” says Bhatnagar.

Strategic Positioning

“While there are bigger players in the market, we sought to enter the enterprise bandwidth, complete with end-to-end solutions: chips, boards, software—our comprehensive range has given us a lead,” says Anand. With over 20 patents pending, Corrent believes in chips that are modular and scaleable to keep pace with the insatiable bandwidth appetite of businesses and consumers who rely on the Internet. “Our first product, which has a speed of three gigabit per second, won the Microprocessor Report's Security Processor of the Year Award for 2001,” says the proud duo. “Normally, as soon as encryption is completed, the through-put rate comes down drastically. Our product managed to break that bottleneck, and our solutions are transparent in the network layer, delivering gigabyte speed.”

Dataquest analyst Donovan forecasts that the security processor market will grow at over a 75% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), reaching a market opportunity size of more that $750 million by 2004, and $1 billion by end 2005. “The growing optical Internet infrastructure and speed will drive the need for security and encryption technologies at the hardware level,” says Donovan.

“We have four board products, and we also provide the system software for them,” says Anand. There have been debates in the industry about the need for such ICs, and the need to integrate software directly into network processor protocol stacks. “Integrating software will bring the network to its knees,” says Bhatnagar. “Introducing an additional Layer 1 and Layer 2 software application task that would offer encryption and authentication functions slows down a router processor's ability to parcel data.”

Ready For IBM Technology

Corrent’s CR7120 has hit headlines recently, where it became the first third party silicon solution to be certified the exclusive “Ready for IBM Technology.” “Delivering integrated solutions is essential to the success of IBM's PowerNP network processors,” says Armando Garcia, vice president of network processors, IBM Microelectronics. “The Corrent CR7120 has passed a rigorous review process to meet the high standards necessary for secure deployment of web-based services.”

As a result of Corrent's validation, Corrent and IBM customers will benefit from faster time-to-market, reduced development risk, and an improved return on investment when integrating the CR7120 into equipment (for example, high-speed routers, VPN, firewalls, multi-port line cards and edge access equipment) powered by IBM Microelectronics PowerNP network processor products. Customers will also have access to driver software, as well as security APIs and a crypto library to enable faster integration of an OEM's security application.

“In addition, OEMs will benefit from significant savings on precious system development time. OEMs using the IBM/Corrent solution will save months of software development by taking advantage of the work already done by both companies as a result of this validation,” claims the duo. “We see a lot more integration happening in the future,” says Anand. “VPNs, firewalls, network IDS will all be brought to a single platform.”

“Motorola is another marquee client for us,” Bhatnagar remarks. “We see very good traction for our products, and our third round of funding stands testimony to that.” The third round of $16 million saw new investors—UMC and Morgan Stanley.

Tough, But Secure

The Corrent team began when the market was hurtling towards the unperceived downturn, and it has been tough raising money, and sustaining traction. According to industry reports, there have been hiccups in the Corrent deliveries, too, but those have been ironed out now. The fabless company relies on investor, UMC, for its foundry needs.

Bhatnagar underlines the importance of leaving no room for errors. “Our chips worked the first time. When we brought out subsequent products, they all have worked the first time. This error-free performance and delivery becomes very critical in surviving these downturns,” he remarks. “We have moved beyond the show-and-tell demos, that became a guessing game for clients in worst-case scenarios. Today, we have tangible improved line-rate functioning to prove our claim. This, we think, is our key differentiator.” More integration at lower cost will be the future, the duo predict.

As security gains more importance in the enterprise-wide system, Corrent sees its key differentiators—encryption, acceleration, silicon-execution—help it move up to establish solutions for the network. “We will own problems and deliver end-to-end solutions,” says the duo. “This is our strategy to move up the chain.”

With over $32 million in funding, and a team of over 40 that brings a collective experience of over 100 years, Corrent seems secure in its security technologies.

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