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 consider 10GbE/40GbE optical and backplane PHYs, 10GBase-T (copper) PHYs, and gearbox PHYs for next-generation 100G Ethernet (100GbE).
Although the GbE switch and PHY segment declined in 2012, it still represents nearly one-third of the total merchant Ethernet silicon market, which is almost $3 billion. The GbE switch market is mature, and its future growth will be driven primarily by overall market growth and secondarily by the tail of the transition from Fast Ethernet.
Most GbE switch-technology innovation now focuses on the Carrier Ethernet market, which has a better growth outlook than the stagnant enterprise market. Carrier Ethernet technologies are being applied to mobile-backhaul, broadband-access, aggregation, and transport systems. Given this diversity of systems, vendors are developing switch chips optimized for the access network or for the aggregation network.
Carrier Ethernet designs also represent the first opportunities for 100GbE. Many of the first 100GbE designs, however, use programmable network processors (NPUs) instead of Ethernet switch silicon. For Ethernet silicon vendors, a near-term 100GbE opportunity is selling gearbox PHY devices to connect NPUs or other packet processors with CFP2 optical modules.
Whereas GbE volumes are driven by client equipment, 10GbE is being driven by data-center equipment. Cisco and its ASIC-based designs dominated early 10GbE switch shipments, but merchant switch chips are now outshipping ASICs. Driven by top-of-rack (ToR) switches and blade-server fabrics, we project merchant 10GbE switch-port shipments will triple by 2017.
The market for 10GbE physical-layer products, which can be for optical media or copper media, has also become substantial. In 2012, data centers primarily deployed SFP+ direct attach for intra-rack connections while using a mix of 10GBase-SR optics and some 10GBase-T for reaches up to 100 meters. For optical PHYs as well as switch chips, 40GbE designs use the same components or technologies as 10GbE. Thus, unlike 100GbE, 40GbE does not represent a distinct product segment.
The vendor landscape for Ethernet chips consists of only two suppliers with broad product portfolios, plus many suppliers with narrower offerings. Over the past several years, the vendor base has consolidated through a number of acquisitions. These deals include Intel’s acquisition of 10GbE switch vendor Fulcrum; Marvell’s acquisitions of NPU and Ethernet switch vendor Xelerated, as well as 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 this strong execution, the company 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 new-product introductions and the aforementioned acquisitions. Although the company still cannot match the breadth of Broadcom’s portfolio, it offers competitive products across several key segments.
Intel is competing with Broadcom, Marvell, and Mellanox using 10GbE/ 40GbE switch chips from its Fulcrum acquisition. The company is targeting data-center designs and offers complementary processors. Intel is also developing silicon photonics, which may factor into future rack architectures. The company’s future products will determine if it can compete effectively for mainstream ToR designs.
InfiniBand leader Mellanox is the other recent entrant in 10GbE switch chips and offers the most 40GbE ports in a single chip. The company sells system-level switch products, however, placing it in competition with potential chip customers. Mellanox has strong technology and an excellent record of product execution, which could lead to future gains in switch-chip share.
Vitesse is the other established vendor offering Carrier Ethernet switch chips. The small company is primarily addressing access designs using low-power integrated switches. Based in China, Centec is a startup mainly focused on Asia-Pacific customers. After initially targeting Carrier Ethernet designs, the company’s newest chip enables enterprise designs as well.
Because PHY technologies vary widely, there exists a large number of PHY vendors, most of which target only one or two standards. AppliedMicro is an incumbent 10GbE optical-PHY vendor and is among the first vendors to ship a gearbox chip for 100GbE. Cortina is a leading vendor of 10GbE/40GbE optical PHYs. Startup Aquantia has emerged as the early leader in 10GBase-T, and 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 shipment data for 2012 as well as forecasts to 2017.