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10GbE chips migrate to computer servers

Posted: 02 Jul 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:10Gbit Ethernet chip for servers? 10GbE server networking? remote direct memory access software? Serdes and CX4 for short-reach copper cables?

Broadcom Corp. is throwing its hat in the ring of chipmakers bringing 10Gbps Ethernet to computer servers. The increasing activity is a sign that 10GbE is ready to migrate from the big switch that aggregates data-center traffic down to the mainstream server that generates and processes it.

The company is following in the steps of two smaller competitors with its so-called Convergence Network Interface Controller, or C-NIC. Chelsio Communications Inc. has rolled a 10GbE chip for servers, and NetEffect Inc. introduced its second-generation 10GbE part in April.

Broadcom is carving out a unique niche with a dual-port device that requires no external memory. "That means the device can easily be used on a server motherboard or server blade mezzanine card," said Bob Wheeler, analyst with The Linley Group. Combined with low power, that flexibility "makes the chip pretty attractive," Wheeler said.

Each of the chip suppliers has its own strengths in a market for 10GbE that has been slowly gaining traction in server networking for the past year. Chelsio was early out of the gate with a 10GbE product that was the first to run the remote direct memory access (RDMA) software defined by the OpenFabrics Alliance for both enhanced Ethernet and Infiniband chips.

NetEffect's second-generation 10GbE chip, a dual-port device, is probably the most mature part on the market, said Wheeler. It requires as much as 256Mbytes of external memory, however, to achieve its full capability of managing as many as 64,000 traffic flows.

Chip aims for server blade sockets. Undisclosed amount of on-chip memory is key to the BCM57710.(Click to view full image)

By contrast, the Broadcom 57710 handles as many as a million sessions on an undisclosed amount of internal memory. "A motherboard solution doesn't have the power, cost or reliability budget to handle external memory," said Burhan Masood, product line manager at Broadcom.

Broadcom claims that the 57710 can deliver the full 10GbE line rate simultaneously in both directions, but consumes just 6.5W average. It sports an application latency of about 6?s.

The chip integrates Serdes as well as CX4 for short-reach copper cables and KX-4 for backplane transmissions. It has Xaui interfaces to link to external PHY-layer devices for 10GBase-T or optical connections.

The device rides an eight-lane PCI Express bus. It comes in a 27-by-27mm package and costs less than $100 apiece in large quantities. It is sampling now, but won't be in production until late this year.

Broadcom is not offering the OFA RDMA software yet because the industry is still ironing out interoperability issues with the code, Masood said.

Broadcom launched its first C-NIC, a 1Gbit device for the PCI-X bus, in 2004, but it missed a server design window and got little traction. A follow-up for PCIe launched last year has had several design wins.

For its part, NetEffect spent most of last year shaking the software bugs out of its first single-port 10GbE card. The startup expects to reap healthy revenue from its dual-port card, slated for production this fall.

"Broadcom has made significant inroads with C-NIC at Dell, HP and IBM for use under Microsoft Chimney," said analyst Wheeler.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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