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Optical/IP

Backplane Standard Gains Allies

Supporters of the PCI Express Advanced Switching standard piled on the enthusiasm yesterday, with 20 companies joining the Arapahoe Working Group finalizing the standard. New members include EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK).

What could arise is a standard interface usable by switch fabrics and system backplanes. Historically, OEMs haven't bothered standardizing these interfaces, and many continue to use proprietary versions. Advanced Switching could change that, paving the way for more OEMs to use off-the-shelf I/O chips, theoretically saving money and development time.

This won't overtake the entire industry, however. Low-end systems that get by with Ethernet-based backplanes (with standard interfaces such as XAUI) can continue to do so, and Advanced Switching likewise won't alter the proprietary design of high-end boxes such as the Cisco GRS 12000, says Rajeev Kumar, program manager at Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC). But there's an enormous middle tier of boxes whose creators would like a standard interface, he says.

Aside from creating a standard, Advanced Switching has the appeal of using PCI-based hardware -- which, because it's developed for PCs, is cheap and plentiful.

"The PHY layer -- the SerDes -- is the same for both [Express PCI and Advanced Switching]. It's the protocol for handling more complex switching that's added," says Beth Logan, Agere Systems' (NYSE: AGR.A) representative to the Arapahoe technical committee.

PCI Express originated as a PCI successor, providing a serial interface suitable for 10-Gbit/s speeds. Intel first proposed the technology, code-named Arapahoe, in 2001 (see 'Wrap-A-Ho? Wazzat?'); the company then changed the name to 3GIO, then changed it again to PCI Express. Meanwhile, "Arapahoe" has stuck as the name of the working group formalizing PCI Express standards.

But PCI Express is meant for chip-to-chip connections. Advanced Switching tacks on the intelligence for more sophisticated topologies -- namely, the kind you'd find in a backplane or a switch fabric. It also adds intelligence for tailoring quality of service (QOS) or high-availability features.

Agere plans to use Advanced Switching with its PI-40 switch fabric, which already uses a 2.5-Gbit/s serial interface. Advanced Switching would provide an alternative to Agere's proprietary, Sonet-based interface, and it could be used to have the PI-40 chips talk to one another, or to connect them to the backplane.

The storage-networking world is another target for Advanced Switching. "Some of the high-end [storage area networking] systems are moving to a blade environment, and they need to tie those blades together," says Intel's Kumar. Moreover, a SAN's need for high QOS and low latency makes Ethernet a difficult fit for backplanes, he says.

Advanced Switching could likewise find uses in wireless backhaul, as carriers try to create services emulating Push to Talk from Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL). "You can't build that capability using Ethernet today. One of the issues is, you have to be able to pass control messages between nodes without a lot of latency," Kumar says.

The Arapahoe Group's Draft 0.95 is out now and contains enough information for companies to start working with pre-standard Advanced Switching implementations. The first formal draft is expected to come out in late September or early October. Believe it or not, that corresponds to the schedule Intel laid out for PCI Express in 2001.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

x-man 12/4/2012 | 11:49:29 PM
re: Backplane Standard Gains Allies Did I say 'Infiniband'? I really meant 'PCI Express'.
- Faceless Intel droid, 2003

These fools have less credibility at this point than the WMD crowd in DC.

And the wonderful, flexible, cheap PCI bus ...
Look at Intel's own page:
http://www.intel.com/design/ch...

everything has fled the PCI bus - graphics, disk, USB. The only thing left out there is centrino and if I was designing a bus solely for networking, it would be PCI on a cold day in hades. PCI is burdened with backwards compatibility stuff back to the 80's.

Intel makes billions off of CPUs that run windows. Their history in networking is less than stellar to say the least. Watch for a quick exit from this venture a la infiniband and also watch for them to flee NPU when they realize what the volumes really are.


x-man 12/4/2012 | 11:49:31 PM
re: Backplane Standard Gains Allies Did I say 'Infiniband'? I really meant 'PCI Express'.
- Faceless Intel droid, 2003

These fools have less credibility at this point than the WMD crowd in DC.

And the wonderful, flexible, cheap PCI bus ...
Look at Intel's own page:
http://www.intel.com/design/ch...

everything has fled the PCI bus - graphics, disk, USB. The only thing left out there is centrino and if I was designing a bus solely for networking, it would be PCI on a cold day in hades. PCI is burdened with backwards compatibility stuff back to the 80's.

Intel makes billions off of CPUs that run windows. Their history in networking is less than stellar to say the least. Watch for a quick exit from this venture a la infiniband and also watch for them to flee NPU when they realize what the volumes really are.


Joe Chen 12/4/2012 | 11:49:33 PM
re: Backplane Standard Gains Allies In fact, Many vendors have supplied the NX10GE products for years, based on SerDes.
dadicool 12/4/2012 | 11:49:34 PM
re: Backplane Standard Gains Allies I have been working with RIO extensively and I think with the direction the RTA is taking, RIO will win since it is available today.

The problem I see with AS is that it is some kind of an overkill for Control Plane Connectivity. And that's where HW-based reliable transport is most needed. You don't want to have too many features that make the silicon complex and therefore expensive.

The other current drawback is that I don't see an equivalent of the PQIII family coming fron Intel. Integration is a MUST in this area.

In the Comm world (and especially Control Plane), PCI backward compatibility is not that important since a lot of people have been using Ethernet or prioprietary interfaces in the past.

But $$$ usually help a lot on the Battle Field ...

DC
arch_1 12/4/2012 | 11:49:51 PM
re: Backplane Standard Gains Allies As of today, if you wish to build a high-speed, scalable, resilient switch fabric, you must use a proprietary solution.

Based on this article, PCI Express AS is moving forward at a snail's pace and is on track for general availability in some far-off future.

In the mean time, Fujitsu has announced next-quarter delivery of a 12x10Gig-E chip for $750.

By the time you get to 10Gbps, latency ceases to be much of an issue, and the Fujitsu chip supports QoS. Furthermore, at this price point you can buy enough overspeed to essentially ignore QoS in the fabric in any case.

The Fujitsu chip, and its successors and competitors, are likely to run down the price curve based on the existing market for LAN switches. PCI Express and RapidIO must create a new market, despite the specious argument that they leverage the PC.

Conclusion: anyone with any sense will implement an Nx10Gig-E fabric instead of PCI Express AS.
edgecore 12/4/2012 | 11:49:56 PM
re: Backplane Standard Gains Allies
..Intel to provide hardware by 2005/2006!

Gee...nice to see LR become a server/desktop site...or am I not grasping that the tier 1's comms OEM's all talk about PCI Express AS :)

PCIExpress for Intel = Parallel Rapid IO for MOT

AS for Intel = Serial Rapid IO for Mot

Intel has all the marketing $$$ and the desktop...whereas Motorola have all the real networking customers.

Intel in communications is all about telephony boxes, displacing solaris and working where a 30-40Watt processor are acceptable (I know they have Arm based processors...but humor me).

Motorola owns 98% of the sockets in real comms boxes at NT, LU, Alcatel, Siemens, and a few others...plus Motorola has the PowerQUICC3 and a real roadmap with processor already integrating a RIO (MPC8540/60)!

So, I have 2 questions:

-how is Intel doing in comms (and comment on both their comms focused divisions, embedded intel architecture division EID, Network processors NPD?

-will PCI Express AS be more accepted in comms than Rapid IO...?

EC
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