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Data Center Switching Enters the 400G Era

The growth of public and private cloud data centers is driving a strong and growing market for high-performance switch chips, and the choices dominating operators in the market make will have a dramatic impact.

Simon Stanley

October 31, 2018

3 Min Read
Data Center Switching Enters the 400G Era

The first 400G data center switches have been announced as the Broadcom 12.8Tbit/s and 8Tbit/s Tomahawk 3 switch chips start mass production.

Tomahawk 3 switch chips are used in the Arista 7060X4 Series and in new systems from Celestica, Delta Networks, Edgecore Networks and Quanta. Innovium is planning production shipments of TERALYNX switch chips before the end of 2018, Mellanox expects to be shipping the 6.4Tbit/s Spectrum-2 switch chips during the first quarter of 2019, and several other companies are developing switch chips with 400Gbit/s ports for introduction during 2019. Taken together with the introduction of 400Gbit/s QSFP-DD and OSFP optical modules, these developments will lift data center switching from 100 Gbit/s to 400 Gbit/s during 2019 and 2020.

We have seen unprecedented investment in high-performance switch chips in response to growing demand from data center operators for 400G switching and 6.4 Tbit/s, 12.8 Tbit/s or larger switch systems. More than $500 million has already been committed to three startups -- Barefoot Networks, Innovium and Nephos -- and Broadcom has introduced a new generation of all its three switch chip product lines, namely Tomahawk, Trident and StrataDNX.

Barefoot, Innovium and Nephos are believed to have important design wins, and Barefoot Tofino switch chips are shipping in the Arista 7170 series switches. Smaller switch chips with 25Gbit/s interfaces and 100Gbit/s uplinks are shipping from Centec Networks and Marvell.

Heavy Reading's new report, Multicore Processors Accelerating Network Virtualization: A Competitive Analysis, identifies and analyzes vendors developing high-performance switch chips, embedded software-defined networking (SDN) and operating systems software, as well as switch IP. The report profiles the vendors and analyses the switch chip architectures and devices, identifying their key features and highlighting the advantages they hold for service providers and system developers. The report includes not only information on switch chips, but also offers insights into how the overall switch market is developing.

The first generation of 400GE switch chips use 16nm technology and 50G PAM4 serial interfaces. Broadcom and Innovium and are the only companies so far to announce 12.8Tbit/s switches. There are now six companies shipping 100GE switch chips, including Barefoot, Broadcom, Innovium, Marvell, Mellanox and Nephos, and most have both 6.4Tbit/s and 3.2Tbit/s solutions. Some of these switch chips support important new features, including in-band telemetry. Several switch architectures support user programming, including through the use of P4; however, for most applications, performance, capacity and cost seem to be more important.

Recent investment in switch chips is also benefiting the market for 25GE and 10GE switch systems. Barefoot, Broadcom and Nephos are all shipping 16nm devices with 48 or more 10/25GE ports and up to 13 100GE uplinks. Broadcom, Centec Networks, Marvell and Nephos are shipping 28/32nm devices with 48 10GE ports and up to eight 100GE uplinks.

Most switch system suppliers provide a standard operating system configuration; however, network operators can now also choose from a growing list of third-party operating system suppliers. These include Arrcus, Cumulus Networks, IP Infusion and Pica8. All these operating systems work with most Broadcom switch chips, but some also work with switch chips from other suppliers. Many network operators are now implementing a mix of physical and virtual switching using SDN. There are also several companies providing software solutions for accelerating virtual switching and routing, managing large networks of virtual and physical switches, and implementing FPGA-based switch systems. These include 6Wind, Big Switch Networks, Corsa Technology and Packet Architects.

In conclusion, this is the most competitive switch market for many years. Data center and network operators have many more options of switch chip, switch system and switch software to choose between. Both the branded and white-box switch markets are seeing significant growth. Many switch system suppliers are working with multiple switch chip and software vendors to give their customers maximum flexibility. The leading switch chip vendors are already working on next-generation switch families based on 7nm technology that will increase the maximum switch chip capacity to 25.6 Tbit/s. The architectures of these next-generation designs will likely be heavily based on the current generation.

— Simon Stanley, Analyst at Large, Heavy Reading

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About the Author(s)

Simon Stanley

Simon Stanley is Founder and Principal Consultant at Earlswood Marketing Ltd., an independent market analyst and consulting company based in the U.K. His work has included investment due diligence, market analysis for investors, and business/product strategy for semiconductor companies. Simon has written extensively for Heavy Reading and Light Reading. His reports and Webinars cover a variety of communications-related subjects, including LTE, Policy Management, SDN/NFV, IMS, ATCA, 100/400G optical components, multicore processors, switch chipsets, network processors, and optical transport. He has also run several Light Reading events covering Next Generation network components and ATCA.

Prior to founding Earlswood Marketing, Simon spent more than 15 years in product marketing and business management. He has held senior positions with Fujitsu, National Semiconductor, and U.K. startup ClearSpeed, covering networking, personal systems, and graphics in Europe, North America, and Japan. Simon has spent over 30 years in the electronics industry, including several years designing CPU-based systems, before moving into semiconductor marketing. In 1983, Stanley earned a Bachelor's in Electronic and Electrical Engineering from Brunel University, London.

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