Broadcom readies 100G Ethernet chip

The processor includes most features of a switch interface card in one chip

Broadcom is shipping samples of a processor for 100-Gigabit Ethernet, part of an architecture that can scale up to a clustered system with a total capacity of 100T bps (bits per second).

The BCM88600 series silicon integrates packet processing, traffic management and other capabilities in a single chip that can handle 100G bps of traffic in a single stream. It is designed for use in line cards for data-center and carrier switches that can have multiple 100-Gigabit Ethernet ports or dozens of 10-Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, said Eyal Dagan, senior director and general manager at Broadcom.

Dagan is the former CEO of Dune Networks, which Broadcom acquired last year. The BCM88600 is the third generation of line-card chips from Dune, which also developed the FE600 switch-fabric chip that Broadcom already sells. Together, they form an architecture that networking equipment makers can use to build a whole line of switches, ranging from small units with two or three line cards to clusters with 100T bps of capacity and as many as 1,000 ports of 100-Gigabit Ethernet, Dagan said. Manufacturers could design those products so that the same line cards could be used in any switch in the lineup, he said.

Traffic from video and other applications is multiplying both within data centers and across service-provider networks, making new standards such as 100-Gigabit Ethernet necessary and leading network architects to seek scalability for the future, said Linley Group analyst Jag Bolaria. Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks, Brocade Communications and some other vendors have announced switches or line cards with 100-Gigabit Ethernet ports, though these interfaces are not expected to be widely adopted until next year.

Big vendors such as Cisco and Juniper can afford to design and build their own chips because of the volume of gear they sell. But "merchant" silicon from third parties such as Broadcom has helped smaller rivals build less-expensive products and kept pressure on switch prices, Bolaria said.

"You've got more players in the market and cheaper systems in the data center," Bolaria said. Meanwhile, IT managers are opening up to less-expensive brands because they have become more cost-conscious, he said. Vendors including Huawei, ZTE and 3Com (now owned by Hewlett-Packard) have taken advantage of merchant silicon to undercut their bigger rivals, he said.

Due to consolidation in the networking chip market, Broadcom is the only chip maker today that can offer an entire scalable architecture like this, Bolaria said. He believes it is the only merchant silicon company making a 100-Gigabit Ethernet chip with so many integrated features. Generally speaking, the more features on one chip, the lower the cost to develop and build a line card, though system makers still have to develop software and other components, he said.

Broadcom expects switches built around the BCM88600 to be announced in the first half of next year. It did not disclose pricing for the chip.

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