Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merchant silicon

The following chart, from Commoditization of Ethernet Switches: How Value is Flowing into Silicon, shows the rapidly increasing market share of network switches based on Broadcom, Marvell and Intel (Fulcrum)  chipsets (often referred to as "merchant silicon") as switch vendors move from proprietary ASICs to off-the-shelf designs.
Off-the-shelf vs. Internal Silicon Design
As an example, many vendors now base their 10 Gigabit top of rack switches on Broadcom chipsets. Often vendors don't disclose when they are using merchant silicon, however, based on news reports, similarities in specifications and rumors, the following switches appear to use similar Broadcom chipsets: IBM BNT RackSwitch G8264, Juniper QFX3500, Cisco Nexus 3064, Arista 7050S-64, HP 5900-AF, Alcatel-Lucent Omniswitch 6900 and Dell Force10 S4810.

In addition to reducing costs, the move to merchant silicon helps increase multi-vendor interoperability and support for standards. For example, the sFlow standard is widely implemented in merchant chipsets and the adoption of merchant silicon for 10 Gigabit top of rack switches has greatly increased the presence of sFlow in data centers. The Network World article, OpenFlow, Merchant Silicon, and the Future of Networking, suggests that the rising popularity of merchant silicon is also helping to drive adoption of the OpenFlow standard.

Together, the sFlow and OpenFlow standards transform data center networking by providing the integrated visibility and control needed to adapt to changing workloads in converged, virtualized and cloud environments.

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