Broadcom, ARM Partner on Networking Chip

Broadcom will leverage ARM’s upcoming 64-bit designs to create an SoC for networking and other systems that will be optimized for NFV.

Broadcom officials are promising server-class, 64-bit chips based on the ARM architecture that will be aimed at networking infrastructure, as well as communications, big data, storage and servers.

Broadcom will use ARM’s upcoming 64-bit ARMv8-A architecture license to build the system-on-a-chip (SoC), which will be optimized for network functions virtualization (NFV)—which, along with software-defined networking (SDN), is expected to have a significant impact on network infrastructures and the data center.

The quad-issue, quad-threaded SoC will be built on 16-nanometer FinFET technology and will offer 3GHz of performance, according to Broadcom officials. The company doesn’t expect the chip to ship in volume until 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal. Broadcom officials will talk about the chip Oct. 16 during the Linley Tech Processor Conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

Broadcom, which currently uses the MIPS chip architecture for many of its products, becomes the latest chip maker to adopt the ARM architecture for data center systems. ARM’s low-power designs are dominant in the booming smartphone and tablet markets, where they are licensed by the likes of Samsung, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. ARM officials expect the release next year of the company’s first 64-bit design will push the architecture into the data center, in everything from low-power microservers to networking and storage appliances.

"By offering the industry's highest-performance ARM-based multi-core processor architecture, Broadcom is expanding its technical leadership in multiple generations of multi-core processing," Ron Jankov, senior vice president and general manager of processor and wireless infrastructure at Broadcom, said in a statement.

The new systems based on the ARM architecture not only will compete against those already running MIPS and IBM Power processors, but also will contend with the growing numbers of x86-based processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

Company officials pointed to tremendous growth in network traffic fueled by the skyrocketing numbers of connected devices and cloud computing, which is forcing service providers to deploy more flexible and agile cloud-based networks. These networks need to rapidly and automatically adapt to changing services and workloads, the officials said.

New network systems that run on ARM-based SoCs that can handle a wide range of workloads—from storage and communication to security and big data—and offer high throughput and computational performance will become increasingly important in these dynamic data centers, and NFV will be a key new networking technology.

Along with the upcoming ARM-based chips, Broadcom also is partnering with ARM to help create an open and standards-based software ecosystem around NFV. Broadcom and ARM will work with service providers, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute and the Linaro Networking Group—whose aim is to build up the ecosystem around Linux applications for ARM-based networks—to standardize a programming model, tools, application programming interfaces (APIs) and network-specific libraries.

The goal is to make it easier for hardware makers to design NFV solutions that will meet the needs of carriers, according to officials with both companies.

"Broadcom is taking a leadership role in helping us to drive an open, standards-based NFV software environment,” Tom Cronk, executive vice president and general manager of ARM’s Processor Division, said in a statement. “This environment will enable the efficient and intelligent technology needed by businesses and consumers in our increasingly connected and data-hungry world."