Cisco Joins 51.2T Switch-Chip Crowd

Four chip vendors may not sound like a crowd, but in the leading-edge data-center switch segment, it's likely unsustainable over the long term. The problem is the small number of customers for these devices, that is, the hyperscalers. Despite stiff competition, however, Cisco continues to invest in its Silicon One product line, which now includes 5nm switch chips. The new top-end device is the Silicon One G200, a 51.2Tbps chip built around an internally developed 112Gbps serdes. As a refresher, the company announced production of its 7nm 25.6Tbps G100 chip last October along with design wins in new Cisco platforms.

As the figure below shows, Cisco makes some bold claims regarding the G200. The most startling is the statement that the G200 is twice as power efficient as its predecessor. In other words, the G200 dissipates the same power as the G100 at twice the throughput. The company's new serdes design must improve power efficiency, as the move from 7nm to 5nm should account for a 30-40% reduction. Cisco says it began internal serdes development seven years ago and that the G200 is its second-generation design. It claims the DSP-based 112Gbps serdes can drive a 4m DAC cable, linear-drive optics, and backplane channels, matching the features of Broadcom's serdes integrated in Tomahawk5.

Silicon One G200 Features (Source: Cisco)

Cisco also says the G200 halves latency compared with the G100, but it withheld the latter's specifications. The new design preserves P4 software compatibility while apparently doubling the packet engine's speed. Although the headline switch density is 64x800GbE ports, the G200 also handles a full 512x100GbE ports for maximum radix. The company also highlighted the G200's lookup rate of 435 billion lookups per second as enabling SRv6 micro segments (uSID), which represent segments using only two bytes.

Coincidentally, the G200 analyst briefing happened the same day the Ultra Ethernet Consortium (UEC) launched, and Cisco carved out a new "enhanced Ethernet" middle ground between plain-vanilla Ethernet and fully-scheduled fabrics. Specifically, it placed congestion-aware load balancing techniques in this middle category, which at present uses proprietary protocols to communicate congestion data between switch nodes. In a simulated 2,048-GPU cluster running 128 AI jobs, the enhanced-Ethernet load balancing delivered a job-completion time only 29% greater than that of a fully-scheduled fabric. The UEC plans to standardize congestion management, and Cisco is a founding member.

Reviewing the landscape, the G200 joins three previously announced 51.2T switch chips. Broadcom was first to production with Tomahawk5, followed by NVIDIA with Spectrum-4. Cisco is sampling the G200, which should reach production by mid-2024. Marvell preannounced Teralynx 10 and has not updated its status, but we expect that chip to reach production about the same time as the G200. We note that all four 51.2T designs rely on serdes designed by the respective vendors, removing dependency on third-party serdes IP that torpedoed multiple 25.6T designs.

400/800G Ethernet Switch Chips

Aside from time to market, business models differentiate these vendors. Broadcom and Marvell remain solely chip vendors, with ODMs and OEMs building systems based on their chips. NVIDIA favors vertical integration, selling full-stack solutions including its Spectrum-X suite. Although it has a few chip-level design wins, it primarily ships branded system-level products. When Cisco launched its Silicon One line in late 2019, it loudly announced newfound business-model flexibility. The company would ship a chip, a white box, or a fully-integrated system, whatever the customer desired. Now, Cisco says it has wins at five out of six "webscale" companies, including wins using each of the three business models. With its webscale business achieving a multibillion-dollar run rate, it can justify investing in leading-edge silicon like the G200.

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