Data-center switch silicon developments keep the market future-proof
Jul 22, 2020
LONDON — Several data center (DC) switch silicon vendors this year have made significant enhancements to their portfolios to meet the evolving demands of their customers.
According to Omdia’s Data Center Network Equipment Market Tracker , data plane forwarding switch silicon units are expected to grow at a five-year compound average growth rate (CAGR) of 8 percent from 2019-2024. Growth will be led by merchant silicon units, with a 7 percent CAGR and programmable chips, with a 26 percent CAGR.
Programmable switch silicon is the prime choice of the future
In 2019, DC Ethernet switch data plane forwarding merchant silicon was the top silicon type shipped, accounting for 53 percent of all switch silicon units, followed by proprietary at 37 percent and programmable, at 10 percent. Omdia forecasts merchant silicon shipped in DC Ethernet switches will reach 52 percent of all silicon units in 2024, proprietary/custom silicon to top 25 percent, and programmable silicon to account for 23 percent.
- Broadcom, the undisputed leader in merchant silicon offerings, made headlines in the past when it released the Tomahawk 4 ASIC, built from ARM processors and designed to support up to 64x400GE ports and 25.6T throughput.
- Proprietary silicon mostly resides in switches from incumbent DC switch vendors like Cisco and Juniper, which have the R&D resources to develop their own chips in-house.
- Programmable silicon consists of a mix of merchant and proprietary silicon vendors, i.e. Innovium, Intel (Barefoot Networks), and NVIDIA (Marvell). Although programmable silicon is the newest of the three DC switch silicon types and has the lowest adoption to date, it has the highest growth potential with a 26 percent five-year CAGR from 2019 to 2024.
“As DC operations become more complex due to increased use of bandwidth-intense applications, switch silicon vendors are tasked with evolving their chips to satisfy both current and future switch silicon requirements.” said Devan Adams, principal analyst at Omdia. “The message is clear: If chip vendors don’t offer key future-proof features within their silicon that DC switch manufacturers need, they will partner with other companies that can, or in some cases develop their own chips in-house”.
Key vendors that have made notable switch silicon developments include:
- Cisco updated its Cloud Scale ASIC to use 7nm fabrication and to support up to 25.6T throughput. Cisco stated the ASIC was built using multi-die silicon technology to decouple switch logic from the serializer deserializer (SerDes) allowing each section to evolve independently. The company also said the latest chips support telemetry with more granular visibility into packets and traffic flows, larger layer 3 (L3) route tables and bigger buffers than the previous version, and segment routing over the IPv6 dataplane (SRv6). The new chips will be used in their latest Nexus 16x400GE line card, plus two Nexus 32/64-port 400GE ToR switches.
- Innovium announced its TERALYNX 8 Ethernet switch silicon family. Samples will be available in the second half of 2020 and design collateral is currently available for early access. TERALYNX 8 chips support up to 25.6T throughput and Innovium offers several reference models including a 1RU 32x800GE switch, a 2RU 64x400GE switch, and a 4RU 128x200GE switch. Innovium states the silicon is programmable and compatible with open-source network operating systems like software for open networking in the cloud (SONiC); plus supports FLASHLIGHT v3, Innovium’s telemetry and hardware analytics software.
- NVIDIA (previously Mellanox) began shipping its Spectrum-3 SN4000 Ethernet Switches. The SN4000 series switches include the SN4700, a 1RU 32x400GE switch; the SN4600, a 2RU 64x200GE switch; the SN4600C, a 2RU 64x100GE switch; and the SN4800, a 4RU chassis that accepts 16x100GE, 4x400GE, and 8x200GE line cards. NVIDIA says all SN4000 models use its Spectrum-3 programmable ASICs and have three purchasing options: pre-installed with Mellanox Onyx operating system (OS), pre-installed with Cumulus Linux OS, or delivered as bare metal with an Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) image.
- Intel announced its co-packaged solution, which integrates its 1.6T silicon photonics with its Barefoot Networks’ 12.8T programmable Tofino Ethernet switch ASICs. Intel stated the co-packaged offering will put optical ports closer to switch chips, resulting in lower power use and improved bandwidth capacity.
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