Broadcom Unveils New Networking Silicon for Scale-Out Data Centers

The chip maker's new Tomahawk chip offers 25GbE networking and capabilities for SDN environments.


Broadcom is rolling out new networking switch silicon aimed at highly scalable data centers, such as those run by cloud giants like Google and Facebook or operating in high-performance computing environments.

Broadcom's new StrataXGS Tomahawk Switch Series brings high capacity—as much as 3.2 terabits per second—and 25/50 Gigabit Ethernet to the data center, which company officials said will help accelerate the adoption of faster, more efficient 25/40/100GbE networks. In addition, the new chip includes features optimized for software-defined networks (SDNs) that give organizations greater visibility into network- and switch-level analytics.

Such performance and capabilities are increasingly important to customers that run massive data centers that process huge numbers of small workloads, according to Christian Plante, senior product line manager for the StrataXGS product lines in Broadcom's Infrastructure and Networking Group.

"Companies of large magnitude invest in building what the technology industry refers to as 'massively scalable data centers,' which enable the apps or other products they offer over the Internet to be widely deployed with breathtaking speed," Plante wrote in a post on the company blog. "For these companies and others, it's not enough to make sure that the site always stays on. Those companies need their sites and services to be powered by data centers that must be bolstered continuously to keep up with new demands. Broadcom understands the importance of such demands."

Among the SDN capabilities offered in Broadcom's new BroadView instrumentation feature set in the StrataXGS Tomahawk are application flow and debug statistics, monitors for link health and utilization, detectors for finding streaming network congestion, packet tracing capabilities and support for OpenFlow 1.3+.

The Tomahawk chip leverages what Broadcom already offers in its StrataXGS Trident—among the most widely deployed networking chips—and StrataDNX products, according to company officials. It offers up to 32 ports of 100GbE, 64 ports of 40/50GbE or 128 ports of 25GbE on a single chip, and is armed with more than 7 billion transistors.

Broadcom has been a vocal advocate for a 25/50GbE industry specification, and was one of the founders of the 25G Ethernet Consortium, a vendor-led group that also includes Google, Microsoft, Arista Networks and Mellanox Technologies. According to Broadcom officials, data centers that currently run 10GbE in the top-of-rack networking tier and 40GbE at the end-of-row level can upgrade to 25GbE and 100GbE, respectively. Such a move would help data centers better manage the growing numbers of distributed server and storage workloads without growing the space needed for networking equipment or increasing the amount of cabling.

With the new StrataXGS Tomahawk silicon, standard networks in a three-tier data center fabric can offer up to 15 times the network capacity, Broadcom officials said. Data centers can reduce cabling within a rack by up to 75 percent and quadruple the number of server and storage nodes that can be interconnected in a leaf-spine configuration by leveraging the Tomahawk chips in their current networking equipment rather than upgrading the hardware to 40GbE, they said.

"It's important for technology companies to keep pushing the limits of what's possible in the data center, and for consumers to see the benefits," Broadcom's Plante wrote. "As cloud computing becomes the norm, companies providing those services need to know they can handle whatever traffic comes their way. As long as they can scale up, their apps, devices and other innovations will never let us down."

Dell'Oro Group analysts said in July that the Layer 2-3 Ethernet switch space will hit almost $25 billion by 2018, driven in large part by networking upgrades.

"Two major upgrade cycles in the data center will be happening; the first being the enterprise migration towards 10 Gigabit Ethernet which we anticipate starting in 2015," Alan Weckel, vice president of Ethernet switch market research at Dell'Oro, said in a statement at the time. "The second, carrying greater implications for future growth in switching, is the Cloud upgrade to 25 Gigabit Ethernet which should begin by 2016. Pricing on 25 Gigabit Ethernet and the associated 100 Gigabit Ethernet ports in the data center will be one of the largest growth factors overall as we look towards the second half of the decade."

Broadcom is seeing increasing competition in the Ethernet switch silicon market. Such chip vendors as Intel and Marvell Technologies are looking to gain traction in the space, while new companies like XPliant—which was bought by Cavium—earlier this month introduced the CNX880xx family of networking chips that includes also 25/50GbE capabilities and up to 3.2T bps of capacity.