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Broadcom Router Chips Aim at ASICs

March 13, 2018

Author: Bob Wheeler

Service-provider routers continue to rely heavily on OEM-proprietary ASICs. Broadcom, however, has enabled increasingly sophisticated routers based on merchant silicon. Now, its next-generation StrataDNX products are leapfrogging OEM ASICs in port density while also supporting 400G Ethernet. The new chipset comprises Jericho2 for line cards and Ramon for the switch fabric, upgrading network ports and the backplane with 50Gbps PAM4 serdes. A single Jericho2 handles 12x400GbE ports (4.8Tbps), whereas each Ramon delivers 9.6Tbps of fabric bandwidth. Together, they enable a 16-slot chassis switch/router with 230Tbps of front-panel bandwidth.

Sampling now, the new chipset represents the 16nm StrataDNX generation, replacing the 28nm generation first introduced three years ago. Broadcom gave its 28nm line-card device a “midlife kicker” in 2016, with Jericho+ upgrading to 9x100GbE ports. Compared with Jericho+, Jericho2 increases throughput by more than 5x. To achieve this feat without abandoning deep buffers, the company adopted in-package High Bandwidth Memory 2 (HBM2), replacing external GDDR5 SDRAM.

Jericho2 increases packet-processing flexibility through an architectural addition that Broadcom calls Elastic Pipe. It has a pool of programmable elements that can be inserted into any stage of the processing pipeline, enabling feature additions that exceed the standard pipeline’s resources. Conceptually, Elastic Pipe is akin to inserting an FPGA into the pipeline to add new capabilities.

For modular systems, Jericho2 and Ramon compete primarily with OEMs’ internal ASICs, which typically include a programmable network processor (NPU) and fabric chips. The fastest of these devices now shipping is Nokia’s FP4 chipset, which delivers one-quarter the bandwidth of Jericho2. Standard Ethernet switch chips offer a merchant alternative, but they lack the deep buffering of the new design. Having a unique merchant product, Broadcom’s strategy is to displace custom ASICs either by convincing OEMs to make the change or by enabling service providers to instead purchase white-box platforms.

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