That would especially make sense if it’s true that Arista was an early investor in Xpliant, the chip startup that Cavium is acquiring. (The deal, announced in September, is expected to close this month.)
It would be a promising start for the XPliant architecture, which will be facing off against Broadcom‘s new Tomahawk line of chips in high-end Ethernet switching. (Note that the XPliant chip family uses an upper-case “P,” unlike the original Xpliant.)
Both sets of chips support the emerging 25-Gb/s Ethernet standard and could “stimulate upgrades within the data center market,” writes Simon Leopold of Raymond James in a report issued Monday.
“Cisco and Arista will launch initial products using the Broadcom Tomahawk chip, whereas we expect Arista will ramp with availability of the Cavium Xpliant,” Leopold writes. “Arista’s philosophy of leveraging merchant silicon allows it to get to market with Broadcom while awaiting the Cavium solution.”
Leopold expects to see switches with the Broadcom and Cavium chips emerge late in 2015 “with a ramp in 2016.”
Neither chip is available in production quantities yet. Broadcom’s Tomahawk is sampling. The flagship chip in the XPliant family reached tape-out (the final step before manufacturing begins) in the December quarter — a key milestone, although Cavium had originally hoped to start sampling the chips during that quarter.
Broadcom has dominated the Ethernet switch-chip market, particularly at the high end. So even if Broadcom is doing a good job, it’s not surprising that its customers might hunger for alternatives. Market-share figures in the 90 percent range make customers uneasy.
It’s not surprising, then, that Arista might have helped fund Xpliant.
That theory was floated by FBR & Co. analyst Christopher Rolland in December. At the time, Barron’s quoted his report saying Arista was “an original investor in Xpliant” and likely would become one if its first customers.
Xpliant’s funding was an intriguing story, as Cavium not only supplied some money but also provided access to customers and an assurance that Xpliant had a shot at survival.
“In terms of chip vendors we work with — we obviously work very closely with them, we are in close trials, and no company knows better how to work with merchant silicon than we do,” said CEO Jayshree Ullal, during Arista’s recent fourth-quarter earnings call with analysts. “We work with three or four types of them. We look to add diversity there. We don’t just take the silicon.”
Ullal went on to add, “We’re very excited about our partnership with Broadcom,” which is probably true, given Arista’s success to date.