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A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips

Tenth Edition

Published June 2014

Authors: Bob Wheeler and Loring Wirbel

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Evaluating and Comparing the Latest Ethernet Switches and PHY Chips

The Ethernet market is marked by technology transitions, which often result in large shifts in vendor share. In Ethernet switches, 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) shipments are growing rapidly, with Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, and Mellanox competing to win market share. These vendors are adding more features, increasing port counts, and reducing power dissipation. Broadcom and Marvell are also the leaders for Gigabit Ethernet switch chips. As the 10GbE market moves into a new phase of growth, optical PHY vendors are consolidating and the 10GBase-T leaders are beginning to emerge. 

With the adoption of 10GbE in servers within the data center, it is necessary to have aggregation switches that support higher data rates. The 40GbE and 100GbE standards are in the initial adoption phase in the data center as well as in carrier applications. The leading vendors are already shipping switch and PHY products that support 40GbE and 100GbE, and five vendors have introduced 100GbE gearbox PHYs.

Ethernet is the interconnect of choice in the LAN and data centers, while service providers are still migrating from circuit switched networks to Carrier Ethernet for access and aggregation. Due to the varied demands of access, aggregation, and transport designs, vendors such as Broadcom, Centec, Marvell, and Vitesse have introduced a variety of switch chips tailored to specific segments.  

The large size of the Ethernet switch and PHY market continues to keep it a competitive environment. "A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips" breaks this market into several key segments:

GbE switch chips for enterprise
10GbE/40GbE switch chips
Carrier-Ethernet switches
10GbE PHYs for copper (10GBase-T)
10GbE/40GbE optical transceivers
100GbE gearbox PHYs and 25Gbps retimers

Unlike typical market research, this report provides technology analysis and head-to-head product comparisons. Which chips will win designs and why? How will these vendors be positioned as GbE, 10GbE, and 100GbE continue to grow? Only The Linley Group's unique technology analysis can provide this forward-looking view.

We Sort Out the Technology and the Key Vendors

"A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips" begins with an extensive overview of this growing market. The report provides tutorials that help you decipher the myriad of acronyms and Ethernet standards. We explore the target markets and applications for Ethernet silicon, followed by an explanation of the common attributes of these products.

Following these introductory chapters, the report delivers a complete chapter on four major vendors: Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, and Vitesse. Each major-vendor chapter includes company background information, full details of announced products, a discussion of the vendor's roadmap, and our conclusions about the vendor and its products. Then, for each product segment, we include a chapter covering other vendors and a chapter comparing the products in the segment.

Product-segment chapters include coverage of switch chips and PHY chips. We cover switch chips from Centec and Mellanox, while we provide brief coverage of stealth-mode startups. For the physical layer, we focus on 10Gbps Ethernet-copper-chips, 40GbE optical PHYs, and 100Gbps gearbox PHYs and retimers. Covered PHY vendors include AppliedMicro, Aquantia, Avago, Cortina, Inphi, MoSys, and Semtech. Finally, we offer our outlook for the leading vendors in each segment and for the overall market.

Make Informed Decisions

As the leading vendor of technology analysis for networking silicon, The Linley Group has the expertise to deliver a comprehensive look at the full range of chips designed for GbE/10GbE/40GbE/100GbE applications. Principal analyst Bob Wheeler and senior analyst Loring Wirbel use their broad experience to deliver the deep technical analysis and strategic information you need to make informed business decisions.

Whether you are looking for the right Ethernet chip for your application or seeking to partner with or invest in a chip vendor, this report will cut your research time and save you money. Make the intelligent decision, order "A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips" today.

This report is written for:

  • Engineers designing Ethernet switch products or systems that embed an Ethernet switch or PHY
  • Marketing and engineering staff at companies that sell related chips who need more information on Ethernet chips
  • Technology professionals who wish an introduction to Ethernet chips
  • Financial analysts who desire a detailed analysis and comparison of GbE, 10GbE, 40GbE, and 100GbE semiconductor companies and their chances of success
  • Press and public-relations professionals who need to get up to speed on this technology

This market changes rapidly, don't be left behind!

Principal Analyst Bob Wheeler and Senior Analyst Loring Wirbel detail the new products, changing vendor landscape, market trends, and forecasts.

Updates to the Tenth Edition of "A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips" incorporate new announcements made since the release of the previous edition.

  • Coverage of new Carrier Ethernet switches from Broadcom, Marvell, and Vitesse
  • Coverage of Marvell's complete 28nm Prestera-DX family
  • Coverage of new 10Gbps Ethernet-over-copper PHYs from Aquantia and Marvell
  • Updated product roadmaps for Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, and Vitesse.
  • Coverage of new 100Gbps gearbox PHYs and retimers from five vendors, including intitial coverage of MoSys.
  • 2013 preliminary market size and vendor share for GbE switch chips, 10GbE switch chips, and 10GbE PHYs
  • Updated market forecast for GbE/10GbE switch, GbE/10GbE PHY chips, and 40GbE/100GbE ports from 2012 - 2017
  • Product comparisons updated to include the latest chips

This report examines Ethernet switch chips and physical-layer (PHY) chips for a range of applications. We look at Carrier Ethernet switch chips, Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) switch chips for enterprise designs, and 10G Ethernet (10GbE) and 40G Ethernet (40GbE) switch chips for data-center applications. We also look at 10GBase-T (copper) PHYs, 40GbE optical PHYs, and 100G Ethernet (100GbE) gearbox PHYs and retimers.

Although the GbE switch and PHY segment is mature, it still represents nearly 40% of the $2.6 billion market for merchant Ethernet silicon. In fact, following a poor showing in 2012, the GbE switch segment rebounded in 2013 to reach record revenue. Looking forward, however, price erosion will offset modest GbE port growth, dampening prospects for greater revenue.

Whereas client equipment drives GbE volumes, data-center equipment is driving 10GbE and 40GbE. Cisco’s ASIC-based designs garner about a two-thirds share in switch-system revenue, but 10GbE port shipments of merchant switch chips exceed those of ASICs. The highest-volume designs for 10GbE/40GbE switch chips are in fixed-configuration switches for top-of-rack (ToR) and leaf/spine applications. Consumption by cloud-service providers should fuel ongoing 10GbE port growth through 2017.

The market for 10GbE physical-layer products, which can be for optical media or copper media, has become substantial. Although we refer to them as optical PHYs, 10Gbps serdes components also serve SFP+ direct-attach cabling. Because most new ASSP and ASIC designs integrate these serdes, the market outlook for standalone optical PHYs is poor. By contrast, 10GBase-T adoption is in its early stages, and switch chips will not integrate these PHYs for the foreseeable future.

Carrier Ethernet designs represent the first opportunities for 100GbE. Many of the initial 100GbE designs, however, use programmable network processors (NPUs) instead of Ethernet switch silicon. The other near-term 100GbE opportunity is selling PHY devices to connect NPUs or other packet processors with optical modules and backplanes. Despite limited 100GbE port shipments, five vendors have fielded CMOS gearbox chips to address this opportunity.

The vendor landscape for Ethernet chips comprises only two suppliers with broad product portfolios plus several suppliers with narrower offerings. Over the past several years, this vendor base has consolidated through a number of acquisitions. These deals include Intel’s purchase of 10GbE switch vendor Fulcrum; Marvell’s deal for Solarflare’s 10GBase-T PHY products; and Broadcom’s acquisition of NetLogic, which sold 10GbE/40GbE PHY chips in addition to search coprocessors (KBPs) and control-plane processors.

The leader in Gigabit Ethernet, Broadcom has remarkably managed to transfer its leading share to newer Ethernet markets such as Carrier Ethernet switch chips, 10GbE/40GbE switch chips for data centers, and 10GbE/40GbE optical PHYs. Because of its strong execution, the com-pany should maintain its leadership in overall Ethernet revenue.

Marvell is Broadcom’s biggest competitor in the Ethernet market. After falling behind its archrival in several segments, Marvell has recently strengthened its product portfolio through a series of new 28nm product introductions. Although the company has yet to match the breadth of Broadcom’s portfolio, it offers competitive products across several important segments.

Intel competes with Broadcom, Marvell, and Mellanox using 10GbE/ 40GbE switch chips from its Fulcrum acquisition. The company targets data-center designs and offers complementary processors. It is also developing server and rack architectures that incorporate its Ethernet and silicon-photonics technologies. The company’s future products will determine if it can compete effectively for ToR designs, which represent the current mainstream.

InfiniBand leader Mellanox is the most recent entrant in 10GbE switch chips and offers the most 40GbE ports in a single chip. The company has strong technology and an excellent record of product execution. It primarily sells system-level switch products, however, competing with potential chip customers.

Vitesse is the other established vendor offering Ethernet switch chips. The small company primarily addresses Carrier Ethernet access designs using low-power integrated switches. Based in China, Centec is a startup primarily focused on Asia-Pacific customers. After initially targeting Carrier Ethernet designs, the company’s newest products also address enterprise and data-center designs.

Because PHY technologies vary widely, many PHY vendors serve this market, but most target only one or two standards. Startup Aquantia emerged as one of the early 10GBase-T leaders. Cortina is a leading vendor of 10GbE/40GbE optical PHYs. Inphi was first to market with a 100GbE gearbox chip developed in CMOS technology.

This report looks at all of these vendors, discusses market and technology transitions, and provides preliminary shipment data for 2013 as well as market forecasts to 2017.

List of Figures
List of Tables
About the Authors
About the Publisher
Executive Summary
1 Networks and Equipment
Evolution of Ethernet LANs
Cable Plants
Ethernet Clients
Data Centers
Carrier Networks
Wireline Access
Wireless Access
Ethernet Equipment
SMB Switches
Desktop Switches
Data-Center Switches
Modular LAN Switches
Carrier Ethernet Switches
Wireline Access Equipment
Wireless Access Equipment
2 Ethernet Technology
Network Layers and IEEE 802 Standards
Link Layers
Spanning Tree and VLANs
Data Center Bridging
Link Aggregation
Authentication and Security
Carrier Ethernet
Provider Bridging
Carrier Ethernet Services
OAM and Protection Switching
Timing Synchronization
Hierarchical Traffic Management
Ethernet Physical Layers
Fast Ethernet
Gigabit Ethernet
10GbE Optical
40GbE and 100GbE
Backplane Ethernet Standards
Energy Efficient Ethernet
Physical-Layer Interfaces
Optical Modules
Related Protocols
Fibre Channel Over Ethernet (FCoE)
QoS and DiffServ
IP Routing and Multicast
ECMP Routing
Network Management
Power Over Ethernet
Host and Fabric Interfaces
PCI Express
3 High-Speed Design Issues
Signal Integrity
Crosstalk and EMI
Channel Effects: ISI and Reflections
Impairments on Fiber
PCB and Connectors
Signal Conditioning
Clock and Data Recovery
4 Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips
Switch Chips
Common Characteristics
System Design
Software Considerations
GbE-Over-Copper PHYs
Common Characteristics
10Gbps Ethernet PHYs
Optical-Module Architecture
Optical-PHY Architecture and Common Characteristics
Copper-PHY Architecture and Common Characteristics
Interoperability and Compliance
40Gbps and 100Gbps Ethernet PHYs
5 Technology Trends
Data Centers
Leaf and Spine Architecture
VM Switching
Tunneling Protocols
Data-Center Switch Chips
Enterprise LAN
Carrier Ethernet
Physical-Layer Developments
Software-Defined Networking
Open vSwitch
White Boxes, ONIE, and OCP
Physical-Layer Developments
100Gbps PHYs and MSAs
400G Ethernet and MSAs
6 Market Outlook
Market Size and Forecast
GbE Switches
10GbE Switches
10GbE PHYs
40GbE and 100GbE Outlook
Market Share
7 Broadcom
Company Background
Switch-Chip Features
Carrier Ethernet Switch Chips
Enterprise and Data-Center Switch Chips
Switch-System Design
Switch Fabrics
10Gbps-and-Above PHYs
Nx10Gbps Serial Transceivers
10Gbps Copper Transceivers
100Gbps Transceivers
Product Roadmap
8 Intel
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Product Roadmap
9 Marvell
Company Background
Switch Chips
Enterprise and Carrier Ethernet Switch Chips
Data-Center and 10GbE Switch Chips
Prestera-EX Switch Chips
System Design
10Gbps PHYs
Copper Transceivers
Optical Transceivers
Product Roadmap
10 Vitesse
Company Background
Carrier Ethernet Switch Chips
Design Details
10Gbps PHYs and CDRs
Product Roadmap
11 Other Switch-Chip Vendors
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Stealth-Mode Startups
Barefoot Networks
12 Other PHY Vendors
100Gbps Gearbox Transceiver
Product Roadmap
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
13 Switch and PHY Comparisons
Comparing 10GbE/40GbE Switch Chips
Key Differentiators
Comparing Carrier Ethernet Switch Chips
Key Differentiators
Comparing Enterprise Switch Chips
Key Differentiators
Comparing 10-100Gbps PHYs
10GBase-T Copper PHYs
40GbE Optical PHYs
100GbE Gearbox Transceivers
Key Differentiators
14 Conclusions
Vendor Outlook
Other Data-Center Switch Vendors
Other Carrier Ethernet Switch Vendors
PHY Vendors
Closing Thoughts
Appendix: Further Reading
Figure 1-1. Typical LAN architecture.
Figure 1-2. Typical data-center components.
Figure 1-3. Generic network architecture.
Figure 2-1. IEEE 802 standards.
Figure 2-2. IEEE 802.3 basic frame format.
Figure 2-3. VPLS switch conceptual model.
Figure 2-4. Hierarchical traffic management.
Figure 2-5. Ethernet physical layer.
Figure 2-6. 10G Ethernet physical layer.
Figure 2-7. Layer model for 40G/100G Ethernet.
Figure 2-8. Modules and interfaces for 10Gbps applications.
Figure 2-9. 40GbE and 100GbE modules and interfaces.
Figure 3-1. Data transmission across connectors.
Figure 3-2. Data transmission using pre-emphasis.
Figure 3-3. Impulse response and equalization.
Figure 3-4. Conceptual diagram of a phase-locked loop.
Figure 4-1. Block diagram of a typical GbE switch.
Figure 4-2. Simplified block diagram of a single-port GbE PHY.
Figure 4-3. Architecture of a generic SFP+ optical module.
Figure 4-4. Block diagram of a 10Gbps serdes.
Figure 4-5. Block diagram of a generic 10GBase-T PHY.
Figure 4-6. Block diagram of a typical gearbox chip.
Figure 5-1. Flat switching architecture with leaf and spine switches.
Figure 5-2. Relative sizes for CFP-module generations.
Figure 6-1. Forecast for Ethernet switch chips, 2012–2017.
Figure 6-2. Forecast for 10G Ethernet switch chips, 2012–2017.
Figure 6-3. Forecast for 10G Ethernet port shipments by medium, 2012–2017.
Figure 6-4. Forecast for 40GbE/100GbE switch-port shipments, 2012–2017.
Figure 6-5. Preliminary share for GbE switch chips and PHYs, 2012–2013.
Figure 6-6. Preliminary 10GbE switch-chip revenue, 2012–2013.
Figure 6-7. Preliminary market share for 10Gbps optical PHYs, 2012–2013.
Figure 6-8. Preliminary market share for 10GBase-T PHYs, 2012–2013.
Figure 7-1. Broadcom 48xGbE+4x10GbE stackable switch.
Figure 8-1. Internal architecture of Intel FM6364.
Figure 8-2. Top-of-rack switch design based on Intel FM6764.
Figure 9-1. Marvell 48xGbE+4x10GbE stackable Layer 3 switch.
Figure 10-1. Vitesse 24xGbE+2x10GbE stackable Carrier Ethernet switch.
Figure 10-2. VSC848x equalizer cleaning a 10Gbps signal.
Figure 10-3. Vitesse VSC8248 in a 40GbE application.
Figure 11-1. Centec 48xGbE+4x10GbE stackable switch design.
Table 2-1. OSI reference model
Table 2-2. Ethernet PHY standards.
Table 6-1. Forecast for Fast and Gigabit Ethernet switch chips, 2012–2017.
Table 6-2. Forecast for 10G Ethernet switch chips, 2012–2017.
Table 6-3. Forecast for 10G Ethernet PHY ports by medium, 2012–2017.
Table 6-4. Forecast for 40GbE/100GbE switch-port shipments, 2012–2017.
Table 6-5. Preliminary share for GbE switch chips and PHYs, 2012–2013.
Table 6-6. Preliminary 10GbE switch-chip revenue, 2012–2013.
Table 6-7. Preliminary market share for 10Gbps optical PHYs, 2012–2013.
Table 6-8. Preliminary market share for 10GBase-T PHYs, 2012–2013.
Table 7-1. Key parameters for Broadcom Carrier Ethernet switch chips.
Table 7-2. Key parameters for Broadcom enterprise and data-center switches.
Table 7-3. Key parameters for Broadcom StrataDNX line-card device.
Table 7-4. Key parameters for Broadcom Nx10Gbps serial and 10GBase-T transceivers.
Table 7-5. Key parameters for Broadcom 100Gbps transceiver chips.
Table 8-1. Key parameters for Intel Ethernet switch chips.
Table 9-1. Key parameters for Marvell Prestera DX products.
Table 9-2. Key parameters for Marvell 10GbE switch products.
Table 9-3. Key parameters for Marvell 10GBase-T PHY products.
Table 9-4. Key parameters for Marvell optical PHYs.
Table 10-1. Key parameters for Vitesse Carrier Ethernet switch chips.
Table 10-2. Key parameters for Vitesse PHYs and signal conditioners.
Table 11-1. Vendors of GbE and 10GbE switch chips.
Table 11-2. Key parameters for Centec Ethernet switch chips.
Table 11-3. Key parameters for Mellanox SwitchX-2 chips.
Table 12-1. Vendors and status of 10Gbps-and-above Ethernet PHYs.
Table 12-2. Key parameters for AppliedMicro 100Gbps gearbox chips.
Table 12-3. Key parameters for Aquantia 28nm PHY products.
Table 12-4. Key parameters for Avago Vortex 100GbE PHYs.
Table 12-5. Key parameters for Cortina CS43xx PHYs.
Table 12-6. Key parameters for Inphi 100Gbps PHYs.
Table 12-7. Key parameters for MoSys LineSpeed 100GbE PHYs.
Table 12-8. Key parameters for Semtech gearbox components.
Table 13-1. Comparison of 10GbE/40GbE switch chips.
Table 13-2. Comparison of Carrier Ethernet switch chips delivering 100Gbps and above.
Table 13-3. Comparison of Carrier Ethernet switch chips for access.
Table 13-4. Comparison of 48xGbE+4x10GbE stackable enterprise switches.
Table 13-5. Comparison of quad-port 10GBase-T PHY chips.
Table 13-6. Comparison of dual-port 40GbE retimers.
Table 13-7. Comparison of 100Gbps gearbox chips.
Table 13-8. Comparison of 100GbE retimers.


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