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10GbE blasts ahead with new switch, transceiver, card offerings

Posted: 25 Apr 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:10GbE? Fujitsu Aquantia Mellanox? Ethernet?

In separate announcements, three silicon vendors are pushing forward what has been to date a slow transition to 10GbE.

Fujitsu Microelectronics is releasing a switch that integrates 26 10Gbit ports and supports an existing standard for serial 10Gbit backplanes as well as an emerging standard for lossless Ethernet. Startup Aquantia will debut a low-power transceiver for sending 10GbE up to 100m over copper, and Mellanox Technologies is pledging to automate the job of carrying a host of protocols for Ethernet and Infiniband on its server card chips.

The new offerings come on the heels of advanced Ethernet chips from a host of vendors announced around the recent Storage Networking World conference.

To date, 10Gbit links have been limited to a small percentage of the ports on data center systems that aggregate and switch traffic from Gbit links. The speed grade has barely made any appearance on servers to date, in part because the chips and optical connections for them remain expensive.

Fujitsu's new Ethernet switch, the MB86C69RBC, aims to leapfrog competitors Broadcom and Fulcrum Microsystems, in part by being early to support the so-called 10Gbase-KR standard for running backplanes at a serial 10Gbit rate.

"It's attractive and natural to go from today's Gbit serial systems to 10Gbit systems maintaining a single lane of traffic" rather than switch to four-lane XAUI, said Asif Hazarika, director of the network chip group for Fujitsu Microelectronics America. "I know a couple server blade manufacturers that have built prototypes using KR," he added.

Meanwhile, telecom system makers using the Advanced TCA chassis are defining backplane connector standards for KR. "That should not take more than six months or so and the chassis makers are already working on their 10Gbit backplanes while that work goes on," he said. Fujitsu also is supporting a variety of pre-standard techniques for limiting traffic loss over Ethernet. The company is participating in an ad hoc effort to draft before the end of May a proposal to an IEEE group working on the issue.

"I was one of the guys who pushed for a Layer 2 standard on congestion management four years ago," said Hazarika.

The Fujitsu chip is an upgrade to a 20-port part launched in August 2006. "We maintained the same die size and footprint and nearly the same power consumption," he said.

The 35mm x 35mm part consumes about 22W and will sample in June at prices from $15 to $20 per port depending on volumes.

"From a features standpoint, Fujitsu has the state-of-the-art product right now," but Broadcom could add the KR functionality quickly, said Jag Bolaria, a senior analyst with The Linley Group.

Significant tech work
Systems makers are currently trying to leapfrog to 10Gbit backplane designs from current systems that use 3.125Gbit backplanes, but that requires significant technical work, particularly in signal integrity, he said. "It will probably be a year or so before these systems emerge," said Bolaria.

Separately, startup Aquantia announced its first transceivers for the 10GBase-T standard. The AQ1000 is a 90nm chip that delivers 10Gbit traffic across 100 meters of Category 6a copper, dissipating about 5.5W. The first version of the chip will only support 10Gbit, but a multirate version will sample in the fall.

Competitor SolarFlare Communications recently announced it was preparing to sample a 65nm multirate chip for 10GBase-T with similar power consumption.

"The two companies are neck-and-neck in power and plus or minus a few months in time-to-market," said Bolaria. "It's really a question of who gets it working first," he added.

For its part, Mellanox said it would roll out this fall new firmware to let its ConnectX server chips automatically detect and handle various networking and storage protocols over Infiniband, Ethernet or advanced Ethernet networks. The move will help smooth the path to supporting multiple kinds of traffic over one network, if users are willing to switch to Infiniband.

"People want to find a solution to handle all their workloads," said Eyal Waldman, CEO of Mellanox.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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