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Innovium Bets on High-Density 100GbE

March 28, 2017

Author: Loring Wirbel

Broadcom’s technology leadership in data-center switch chips, capped by its Tomahawk II, is about to be upset by newcomer Innovium. The startup is using 50Gbps PAM4 serdes as a differentiator to provide high-port-count 50GbE and 100GbE as well as elements for 200GbE and 400GbE. It plans to release five Teralynx chips in a market where new competition is emerging from other startups.

The newcomers point to holes in Broadcom’s strategy of achieving absolute dominance using the Tomahawk and Trident switch families. Innovium cites industry analysts who forecast that 100GbE port shipments will exceed 40GbE in 2017. Switch OEMs expect 400GbE deployments to start in 2018 and to become commonplace in data centers by the end of the decade. Nephos, a new MediaTek spinoff, sees the lack of a common architecture and programming model across the Broadcom families as a major weakness.

Nevertheless, grabbing share from the market leader will be difficult. Innovium will rely on five chips in its Teralynx family, which tops out at 12.8Tbps of aggregate bandwidth. Because hyperscale-data-center operators emphasize rapid scaling to 400GbE and 800GbE, Broadcom’s use of 25Gbps NRZ serdes for Tomahawk II may leave an opportunity for Innovium unless the incumbent quickly integrates 50Gbps PAM4 serdes. Even then, a shift in customer interest to greater programmability could help displace Broadcom as the technology leader.

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