Data Center Infrastructure

Switching Redefined for the Virtual Network

The shift to cloud services and virtual networks has made data center switches -- and the switch devices used in them -- key to delivering maximum network performance and service flexibility.

Maximum network performance requires low latency switches with 25Gbit/s serial interfaces and 25GE and 100GE ports. Maximum service flexibility requires switches with support for software-defined networking (SDN) and network virtualization, third-party or open operating systems and in-service upgrades for new features and functions. Switch devices already in production support many of these requirements. The next generation of switch devices, some already sampling to customers, promise to deliver on most or all of these requirements.

The high-performance switch chipset market has been dominated by Broadcom for many years. Broadcom was the first switch chipset manufacturer to deliver integrated 10GE switch devices specifically optimized for the data center market. The company has continued to develop its integrated StrataXGS switch architecture with incremental improvements and complemented this with developments of the programmable StrataDNX switch chipset architecture acquired from Dune. The dominance of Broadcom is now being challenged by several silicon vendors with new products based on well-established switching technology and by several startups. All these companies have identified specific differentiators, including capacity, the number of 25GE ports, programmability, latency and support for carrier Ethernet applications.

Heavy Reading's latest report, Terabit Switch Chips & Software for SDN & the White Box Era, identifies and analyzes the key vendors developing high-performance Ethernet switch devices, embedded SDN and operating system software and innovative IP solutions. The report profiles 16 vendors and analyzes more than 30 different switch devices and switch device families, identifying the key features and highlighting the advantages they hold for service providers and telecom solution providers. The report includes not only detailed information on the switch devices, but also insights into how the overall switch chipset market is developing to support data centers and virtual networking solutions.

Want to know more about the companies, people and organizations driving developments in the virtualization sector? Check out Virtuapedia, the most comprehensive online resource covering the virtualization industry.

There is a strong ecosystem of companies providing switch-related software and IP. Arista Networks is one of the leading suppliers of switches for data centers and other applications. Arista is unique in using switch devices from Broadcom, Cavium and Intel and having a common switch operating system that covers all three. Arista has also developed an ACL lookup scheme that takes advantage of the programmability in the Cavium XPA architecture. Corsa Technology has developed programmable switches based on an FPGA implementation and Packet Architects supplies switch IP for FPGA implementations. Cumulus is the leading supplier of third-party switch operating systems, Pica8 has developed an operating system for SDN-enabled white box switches and IP infusion has a carrier grade solution for SDN applications. 6Wind and Big Switch Networks provide software for SDN-based switching solutions.

Broadcom, Cavium and Mellanox are shipping 3.2Tbit/s integrated switch devices with 25GE/100GE ports. Broadcom is sampling the 6.4Tbit/s Tomahawk II family, and Cavium and Mellanox have next-generation integrated switch devices in development. Marvell has introduced a 1.8Tbit/s switch device that is optimized for 25GE application, and Intel is shipping switch devices that work as Ethernet multi-host controllers for servers with a mix of 25GE and 100GE ports. All these companies have lower capacity devices and older devices with 10GE/40GE ports. The switch devices shipping from Centec Networks are optimized for efficiency rather than performance. Barefoot Networks is sampling a 6.5Tbit/s switch device that is programmable using P4, and Innovium is developing a new switch chipset solution for data centers.

Taken together, these developments represent the biggest change in the switch chipset market since 2005. There are now more switch devices available or in development from more vendors than at any time in the last ten years, and the use of open interfaces and common switch operating systems enables switch system developers and service providers to use switch chipsets and switch boxes from multiple suppliers, taking advantage of the advanced programmability and performance now becoming available.

— Simon Stanley, Analyst at Large, Heavy Reading

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