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Switch Fabrics Storm the Market

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
12/30/2002

The theory behind network processors is that OEMs can no longer afford to develop their own semiconductors in many cases. Time-to-market pressures are increasing, as is the complexity of the chips involved; the two factors combine to make off-the-shelf chips more enticing than building your own from scratch.

The same logic holds for switch fabrics, but it's taken a little longer for these devices to get comfortably ensconced in the market. That's because the choice of switch fabric can affect an entire system architecture. Many OEMs appear to have tested the merchant-silicon waters by first using network processors, meanwhile holding off on purchasing an outsider's switch fabric. Plenty of chip vendors expect that reticence to soften in 2003.

In a Light Reading report released today, analyst Simon Stanley of Earlswood Marketing Ltd. examines the switch-fabric market, listing the players and contenders that hope to make waves in 2003. The report includes an overview of switch fabrics sampling or shipping from Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR/A), Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC), Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Mindspeed Technologies, Sandburst Corp., Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) and ZettaCom Inc. It also looks at upcoming offerings from Dune Networks, Erlang Technology, Internet Machines Corp., PetaSwitch Solutions Inc., Tau Networks Inc., TeraCross Ltd., and Zagros Networks Inc.

In many cases, the new fabrics come from startups that want to address the problem of scheduling. A switch fabric needs some way to keep from getting clogged up when traffic overflows the capacity of a particular port, or else some packets might get dropped.

Startups Internet Machines and PetaSwitch take a preemptive approach, enabling the switch fabric to tell line cards to ease up when congestion intensifies. Zagros and TeraCross, on the other hand, take an algorithmic approach, adding more smarts to the process of prioritizing and switching traffic.

Stanley's report also surveys the types of switch-fabric architectures being used, as many startups are adopting an arbitrated crossbar approach, in which line cards request passage across the switch fabric. This setup puts queues at the output side of the fabric, allowing the fabric to see which egress ports might be congested.

Read the full report here: Packet Switch Chips. — Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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