10 Gigabit Ethernet Costs to Drop

Clariphy, KeyEye aim to cut the cost of upgrading by hundreds of dollars per port.

A new generation of networking chip startups is attempting to find a path into businesses networks by making 10 Gigabit Ethernet networking gear more palatable to their technology budgets.

The companies, ClariPhy Communications and KeyEye Communications, are crafting optical physical layer interface chips and copper media transceivers, respectively, that they say network equipment makers can use to create lower-priced 10 Gigabit Ethernet gear.

Although they come at the market from different angles, the two companies aim to convince network gear makers that using their chips could cut the cost of equipment upgrades by hundreds of dollars per port, creating an opportunity to speed up the adoption of 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections—still fairly rare—in network backbones and data centers. Drop the cost of 10 Gigabit Ethernet gear low enough, they argue, and businesses will upgrade.

ClariPhy, a 25-employee startup that launched this month, plans to offer a chip that can save companies money by bumping the bandwidth of existing network cables. Based on a DSP (digital-signal processor), its physical layer interface chip for 10 Gigabit Ethernet most likely will be built into line cards used by network switches. The chip will make it possible for companies to continue using their existing 2.5G-bps multimode optical network cables, but it promises to bump the bandwidth of those cables to 10G bps.

The chip, which will conform to the forthcoming IEEE 10GBase-LRM (Long Reach Multimode) standard for 10 Gigabit Ethernet over optical cables, is able to offer increased speed because its built-in DSP can compensate for distortions created by sending the high-speed signals, said Paul Voois, ClariPhys CEO, in Irvine, Calif. "Whats going to save them [money] going to 10 Gigabit is not having to replace their cable," Voois said.

Following the 10GBase-LRM standard means that companies can cut costs by employing fewer lasers for sending networking signals via optical cables than they do using chips based on todays 10GBase-LX4 standard.

ClariPhys first physical layer interface chip is still in development, and the company expects to have customers sample the chip later this year. Thus it wont be available in equipment until next year, Voois said.

ClariPhy ultimately aims to use its chips to help drive the per-port cost of 10 Gigabit Ethernet down to less than $100 for equipment makers. That cost is currently about $500, Voois said. Lowering manufacturers costs would allow them to, in turn, offer lower prices to business customers.

"For 10 Gigabit [Ethernet] to really happen, you need to get to 10 times the performance at three times the cost," Voois said. Historically, "when IT managers are faced with that equation, theyll pay" to upgrade, he said.

It will take time for prices to come down, however, and there are still strides to be made in port density. However, as ClariPhy sees it, theres plenty of opportunity in network backbones, where there are about 100 million existing ports that use multimode fiber, which could be upgraded from 2.5G-bps to 10G-bps speeds. ClariPhys chips also will work to enable data center computer interconnects, Voois said.

Meanwhile, KeyEye officials say the company is nearing full production of a family of transceiver chips designed to help combine 10G-bps speeds and inexpensive copper cables, a move they say many businesses would like to see happen in the data center.

The 40-employee network chip maker believes businesses want to combine 10G-bps bandwidth and low-cost Category 6 copper cables for connecting servers and storage, instead of the fiber or special copper InfiniBand cables they use today, said Fred Lancia, vice president of sales and product marketing at KeyEye, in Santa Clara, Calif.

The company is offering three chips, which prepare signals for transmission over a network cable. Much of KeyEyes expertise, therefore, lies in encoding and decoding signals, as well as in echo cancellation. The companys KX1000 chip will enable using 10 Gigabit Ethernet to make short connections, such as between switches. Its KX1001 chip aims to enable the use of 10 Gigabit Ethernet over Category 6 cables to replace fiber cables. Meanwhile, its KX1003 chip aims to replace InfiniBand cables with Category 6 copper wire.

KeyEyes chip family uses a specification called PAM-4 (pulse amplitude modulation-4), which has a method of encoding that differs from that of the IEEE 10GBase-T standard for Ethernet over twisted-pair copper cabling, expected to be finalized this year. However, the company believes that, between pent-up demand and the time it will take gear that uses the standard to hit the market, many companies will adopt equipment with its technology. Next year, KeyEye plans to follow up with a line of 10GBase-T-compliant chips, Lancia said.

Getting to 10 Gigabit Ethernet on the cheap

ClariPhy: A physical layer interface chip for multimode fiber cables

Goal: Extend existing 2.5G-bps fiber to 10 Gigabit Ethernet, while adhering to 10GBase-LRM standard

Available: Chip samples in the second half of this year; end products next year

KeyEye: A family of media transceiver chips for Category 6 copper

Goal: Apply inexpensive copper cables to 10 Gigabit Ethernet and InfiniBand

Available: Samples now; end products later this year; 10GBase-T-compliant chips due next year