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A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips

Ninth Edition

Published April 2013

Authors: Jag Bolaria and Bob Wheeler

Single License: $3,995 (single copy, one user)
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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, PHY vendors are consolidating and the leaders are beginning to emerge. Optical PHY vendors have already staked their ground, while copper PHY vendors enter a new round to win designs. Although Aquantia has emerged as an early leader for 10GBase-T PHYs, Applied Micro, Broadcom, and Marvell hope to jump ahead with 28nm products.

With the adoption of 10GbE in servers within the data center, it is necessary to have aggregation switches that support higher data rates. The IEEE has standardized 40GbE and 100GbE, and these technologies 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 more are expected to follow.

Ethernet is the interconnect of choice in the LAN and data centers, while service providers are migrating from circuit switched networks to Carrier Ethernet for access and aggregation. As demand increased, vendors are consolidating with the bigger players acquiring the successful startups, as exemplified by Marvell buying Xelerated. The remaining startups, such as Centec and Ethernity, hope to survive by finding niches that are underserved by the larger players. 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 enterprise10GbE switch chipsCarrier-Ethernet switches10GbE PHYs for copper and optical media10GbE (KR) backplane transceivers40GbE and 100GbE PHYs

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 where available, 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, Ethernity, and Mellanox. For the physical layer, we cover 10Gbps optical PHYs and backplane PHYs from AppliedMicro and Cortina. The PHY section also covers 10Gbps Ethernet-over-copper chips from Aquantia and AppliedMicro. In addition, this section discusses 100Gbps gearbox PHYs from AppliedMicro, Avago, Inphi, 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. Senior analysts Jag Bolaria and Bob Wheeler 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 controller or switch
  • 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!

Analysts Jag Bolaria and Bob Wheeler detail the new products, changing vendor landscape, market trends, and forecasts.

Updates to the Ninth 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 and Vitesse
  • Coverage of new 10Gbps Ethernet-over-copper PHYs from Broadcom
  • Coverage of new 10GbE switch chips from Broadcom and Marvell
  • Coverage of a new Ethernet switch from Centec
  • Coverage of new 10Gbps Optical PHYs from Broadcom and Cortina
  • Coverage of new 100Gbps gearbox PHYs from Avago and Broadcom
  • 2012 market size and vendor share for GbE/10GbE switch chips and GbE PHYs
  • 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 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.

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
Network Management
Power Over Ethernet
System 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 and Market Trends
Market Trends
Data Centers
Blade Servers
Technology Trends
Carrier Ethernet Switch Chips
Data-Center Switch Chips
Enterprise Switch Chips
10GBase-T PHY Chips
10Gbps Optical-PHY Chips
Emerging Technologies
VM Switching
Tunneling Protocols
Carrier Ethernet
Physical-Layer Developments
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
10GbE/40GbE Optical and Backplane Transceivers
10Gbps Copper Transceivers
100Gbps Gearbox 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
AX Programmable Switch Chips
Prestera-EX Switch Chips
System Design
10Gbps PHYs
Optical Transceivers
Copper Transceivers
Product Roadmap
10 Vitesse
Company Background
Switch Chips
Carrier Ethernet Switch Chips
Enterprise Switch Chips
Design Details
10Gbps PHYs and CDRs
11 Other Switch-Chip Vendors
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
12 Other PHY Vendors
10Gbps Optical Transceivers
10Gbps Copper Transceivers
100Gbps Gearbox Transceiver
Product Roadmap
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 10100Gbps 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. Transmitted data eye and received data eye after two connectors.
Figure 3‑2. Transmitted eye with pre-emphasis and received eye.
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 5‑1. Relative sizes for CFP-module generations.
Figure 6‑1. Forecast for Ethernet switch chips, 20122017.
Figure 6‑2. Forecast for 10G Ethernet switch chips, 20122017.
Figure 6‑3. Forecast for 10G Ethernet port shipments by medium, 20122017.
Figure 6‑4. Forecast for 40GbE and 100GbE port shipments, 20122017.
Figure 6‑5. Gigabit Ethernet switch-chip and PHY market share, 20112012.
Figure 6‑6. 10GbE switch revenue, 20112012.
Figure 6‑7. Optical-PHY market share, 20112012.
Figure 6‑8. Preliminary 10GBase-T PHY market share, 2012.
Figure 7‑1. Broadcom 48xGbE+4x10GbE stackable switch.
Figure 8‑1. Internal architecture of Intel FM6364.
Figure 8‑2. Top-of-rack switch design (Seacliff Trail) based on Intel FM6764.
Figure 9‑1. Marvell 48xGbE+2x10GbE stackable Layer 3 switch.
Figure 10‑1. Vitesse 24xGbE+2x10GbE stackable Carrier Ethernet switch.
Figure 10‑2. VSC848x equalizer cleaning 10Gbps signal.
Figure 10‑3. Vitesse VSC8248 in a 40GbE application.
Figure 11‑1. Centec 48xGbE+4x10GbE stackable switch design.
Figure 11‑2. Block diagram of ENET3000 in a cell-tower gateway.
Table 2‑1. OSI reference model.
Table 2‑2. Ethernet PHY standards.
Table 6‑1. Forecast for Fast and Gigabit Ethernet switch chips, 20122017.
Table 6‑2. Forecast for 10G Ethernet switch chips, 20122017.
Table 6‑3. Forecast for 10G Ethernet PHY ports by medium, 20122017.
Table 6‑4. Forecast for 40GbE and 100GbE port shipments, 20122017.
Table 6‑5. Preliminary Gigabit Ethernet switch-chip and multiport-PHY market share, 20112012.
Table 6‑6. Preliminary 10GbE switch revenue, 20112012.
Table 6‑7. Preliminary optical-PHY market share, 20112012.
Table 6‑8. Preliminary 10GBase-T PHY market share, 2012.
Table 7‑1. Key parameters for Broadcom Carrier Ethernet switch chips.
Table 7‑2. Key parameters for Broadcom enterprise/data-center switch chips.
Table 7‑3. Key parameters for Broadcom StrataDN line-card devices.
Table 7‑4. Key parameters for Broadcom 10GbE/40GbE transceivers.
Table 7‑5. Key parameters for Broadcom 100Gbps gearbox chips.
Table 8‑1. Key parameters for Intel FM6000 switch chips.
Table 9‑1. Key parameters for Marvell Prestera-DX products.
Table 9‑2. Key parameters for Marvell Prestera-CX products.
Table 9‑3. Key parameters for Xelerated AX switch chips.
Table 9‑4. Key parameters for Marvell optical PHYs.
Table 9‑5. Key parameters for Marvell 10GBase-T PHY products.
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 Ethernity ENET devices.
Table 11‑4. 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 10Gbps PHY chips.
Table 12‑3. Key parameters for AppliedMicro 10GBase-T PHY chips.
Table 12‑4. Key parameters for AppliedMicro 100Gbps gearbox chip.
Table 12‑5. Key parameters for Aquantia 40nm PHY products.
Table 12‑6. Key parameters for Avago Vortex gearbox PHYs.
Table 12‑7. Key parameters for Cortina CS43xx PHYs.
Table 12‑8. Key parameters for Inphi gearbox PHYs.
Table 12‑9. Key parameters for Semtech gearbox components.
Table 13‑1. Comparison of 10GbE/40GbE switch chips.
Table 13‑2. Comparison of 100Gbps-and-up Carrier Ethernet switch chips.
Table 13‑3. Comparison of Carrier Ethernet switch chips for access.
Table 13‑4. Comparison of quad-port 10GBase-T PHY chips.
Table 13‑5. Comparison of 40GbE retimers.
Table 13‑6. Comparison of 100Gbps gearbox chips.


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