Merchant Silicon Will Dominate Data Center Ethernet Switching by 2022
Merchant silicon will dominate the data center Ethernet switching market, shipping 63 percent of all chips in 2022, according to a report from IHS Markit.
Propriety and custom chips will be more than 30 percent of the market, and programmable chips 7 percent, according to the regional Data Center Network Equipment Market Tracker.
Broadcom, IHS Markit said, dominates in merchant silicon with a wide array of chips from general purpose, purpose-built and bare metal products. Port speeds run the gamut from 1GE to 400GE.
The business dynamic is that merchant silicon is getting buy-in from white box and traditional switch vendors that traditionally deploy custom silicon. Recent moves from Cisco, Juniper Networks, and Arista Networks all introduced merchant chips into the mix.
Cisco announced its Nexus 9300 and 3400 data center switches. The 3400 will include merchant silicon. Juniper introduced the QFX10003 switch and the QFX5220 switch. The latter will use Broadcom merchant silicon. And Arista unveiled the 7060PX4 and the 7060DX4 switches, which are designed for hyperscale and enterprise data centers. Both will use Broadcom’s Tomahawk 3 merchant silicon.
‘Direct Connection’ to SDN, Open Source
Merchant silicon also is being pushed by parallel developments in networking, Devan Adams, IHS Markit’s principal analyst for cloud and data center switching, told SDxCentral. “The increased adoption of merchant silicon has direct connections with the rise of other technologies like SDN, and open-source programs like Open Compute Project (OCP).”
Bare metal switches are those in which data forwarding hardware and control plane software (the switch OS) are supplied by different vendors. This segment will continue to grow in popularity and constitute 30 percent of ports shipped in 2022, almost double the 16 percent share it held in 2017. Drivers include the growth of hyperscale architectures, demand from tier 2 CSPs, telco adoption of NFV, and greater diversification by large enterprises, IHS Markit said.
The array of chips in use clearly is broadening. “Programmable chips are a newer emerging silicon class that offers more flexibility than traditional proprietary chips,” Adams wrote in an email. “DC switch vendors are choosing both to offer variety in their portfolios and more importantly cater to price-sensitive customers. In some cases the benefits of using DC switches with merchant silicon are meeting or exceeding those using proprietary.”
Barefoot, Innovium Are Disruptors
Adams laid out the pluses/minuses to the three categories. Merchant silicon is cheaper, widely available, and has shorter time-to-market release cycles. On the negative side, there is little differentiation.
Programmable chips are highly flexible and differentiated. Choices are limited, however. Proprietary chips are highly differentiated, but cost more and have lengthy time-to-market release cycles.
Adams points to Barefoot Networks and Innovium as “innovative and disruptive” data plane silicon vendors. Barefoot, he wrote, offers P4 programmable Tofino chips and P4 compiler, built-in Deep Insight analytics and port speeds as fast as 400GE. Innovium, he wrote, is innovative in providing open programmable TERALYNX switches, built-in FLASHLIGHT analytics and, like Barefoot, port speed as fast as 400GE.
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