Heavy Reading Research

Market Leaders Drive Investment in Switching

Terabit switch chips and switch chipsets that scale up to 400 Tbit/s are making merchant switch chips very attractive for high-performance network systems against in-house ASIC and FPGA-based designs. The latest switch devices not only deliver on performance, but integrate additional system functions such as Ethernet MACs and programmable classification engines to support software-defined networking (SDN).

The high-performance merchant switch chipset market has been developing since 2000. Over the last five years there has been significant consolidation, with Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (Nasdaq: AMCC) acquiring IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and then exiting the market; Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY) exiting the market; Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) acquiring Sandburst Corp. and Dune Networks ; Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) acquiring Fulcrum Microsystems Inc. and products from QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC); and IDT Corp. (NYSE: IDT) acquiring Tundra Semiconductor Corp. (Toronto: TUN) and planning to acquire PLX Technologies.

The high-performance switch chipset market is now dominated by five large semiconductor companies covering integrated Ethernet switch devices, proprietary switch chipsets, PCI Express, InfiniBand and RapidIO devices.

At this critical time, the latest issue of Heavy Reading Components Insider, "Integrated Switch Chips: Delivering Terabit Performance," analyzes recent switch chip developments covering integrated Ethernet devices, proprietary switch chipsets, PCI Express, InfiniBand and RapidIO solutions. The report covers more than 70 devices, identifies the key features and highlights the advantages they hold for equipment manufacturers. The report also profiles the six key vendors reviewing vendor strategy and product features, performance and flexibility. As shown in the report, vendors are continuing to invest in new switch devices integrating 10Gbit/s serial interfaces and significant on-chip memory.

The latest integrated Ethernet switch devices from Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) and Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: MLNX) support over 1Tbit/s of switch capacity. Both devices support 40 Gigabit Ethernet (40GE) interfaces. Integrated Ethernet switch devices with 40GE interfaces are also available from Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Intel supporting 640Gbit/s and 720Gbit/s switching capacity, respectively. All four companies have smaller devices with 10GE and/or 40GE interfaces.

Broadcom has now cornered the merchant switch chipset market with chipsets based on integrated Ethernet switch devices and packet processors with arbitrated crossbars. The Broadcom DUNE Series switch chipset has fabric interface devices, with integrated traffic management and packet processing functions, and switch crossbars that support dynamic routing. The recently introduced Broadcom DUNE Series 2 chipset scales from 100 Gbit/s to 400 Tbit/s, allowing network system developers to build almost any high-performance system using off-the-shelf switch devices.

PCI Express interfaces are now integrated into almost all new processors and are widely used in servers, personal computers and many embedded platforms. PCI Express switches are used in blade servers and other systems. PCI Express Gen 3 increases the port rate to 32 Gbit/s for an x4 port and 128 Gbit/s for an x16 port. Gen 3 PCI express switch devices are available from PLX and IDT with up to 96 lanes and 24 ports. Both companies have smaller devices supporting PCI Express Gen 3 and/or Gen 2.

InfiniBand has traditionally delivered the highest-performance interfaces and is used in more than 40 percent of the TOP500 Supercomputer sites. InfiniBand is also used in several financial systems where low latency is particularly important. Mellanox continues to be the only vendor supplying merchant InfiniBand switch devices. The Mellanox SwitchX family supports up to 2 Tbit/s and includes devices that support InfiniBand, Fibre Channel and/or Ethernet. Intel has an InfiniBand switch device that is used in Intel InfiniBand switch systems.

RapidIO is widely used in wireless infrastructure and other applications that make extensive use of digital signal processors (DSP). The IDT is the only supplier of RapidIO switch devices. The company is shipping a range of RapidIO Gen 2 devices and is working to develop the next-generation RapidIO solution with 10Gbit/s serial interfaces.

High-performance switch devices have become both more complicated and simpler. The devices integrate additional functionality with significant on-chip memory and packet processing functions. On the other hand, the interfaces for most protocols are moving to 10 Gbit/s for the current generation and 25 Gbit/s for the next generation.

All the vendors covered in this report are continuing to invest in new switch designs taking advantage of the latest silicon technology to integrate additional on-chip memory and higher-speed interfaces. The Mellanox SwitchX family includes the first devices to support two different protocols. This will continue to be unusual, but we will see more products that share the same architecture internally and the same serial interfaces, but support different protocols. This common approach will allow vendors to continue investing in new switch devices.

— Simon Stanley, Analyst, Heavy Reading Components Insider

This report, Integrated Switch Chips: Delivering Terabit Performance, is available for $1,595. For more information, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/commchip.

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