Saturday, April 20, 2013

Merchant silicon competition

Figure 1: Open Network Platform Switch Reference Design (see Intel Product Brief)
Rose Schooler's keynote at the recent Open Networking Summit described Intel's new reference switch platform. Intel merchant silicon addresses network virtualization and SDN use cases through support for open standards, including: OpenFlow,  NVGRE, VxLAN and sFlow.
Figure 2: Top of rack using Broadcom merchant silicon (from Merchant silicon)
Intel appears to be targeting Broadcom's postion as merchant silicon provider in the data center switch market. Just as competition between Intel, AMD and ARM has spurred innovation, increased choice, and driven down CPU prices, competition between merchant silicon vendors promises similar benefits.

In the compute space, the freedom to choose operating systems (Windows, Linux, Solaris etc.) increases competition among hardware vendors and between operating system vendors. Choices in switch operating system are starting to appear (PicOS and the open source Switch Light project), opening the door to disruptive change in the networking market that is likely to mirror the transition from proprietary minicomputers to commodity x86 servers that occurred in the 1980's.


  1. You are hitting on one of the strategic sweet spots for SDN. While everyone is busy crafting up their software features and talking about OpenFlow support (mind you, SDN goes beyond OF), a lot of people are ignoring the silicon side. I am particularly bullish on Intel as they take on Broadcom. I think this should shape up to be one of the more interesting corporate battles.

    It shouldn't be terribly surprising that the big guys are coming in. When you have small markets, you get the little bit players entering the space. When you get big markets, even the big guys cannot help but to join the fray.

    If SDN turns out to be as big as we think (we worked with SDNCentral to model out a potential $35B impact by 2018*), then there will be more titans entering the battlefield. I am personally curious to see what IBM and Oracle do.

    *The backing data on the market sizing is here:

    1. It does look like it will be an interesting competition. I recently came across an Intel white paper that discusses their hardware support for SDN - it's pretty impressive.