When it comes to programmable switch chips, Innovium places them in the “niche application” category.
Innovium is a newcomer in the semiconductor industry; it’s only been around since December 2014. But it employs more than 100 people, and it’s raised $165.3 million during its short lifespan.
In March 2017, Innovium announced its family of Ethernet switch chips — Teralynx — that range from 3.2 Tb/s to 12.8 Tb/s, designed specifically for use in data centers. And the Teralynx chips are programmable.
In April, CEO Rajiv Khemani told SDxCentral, “Our chip is programmable. It means, in the network, the chip is capable of supporting new protocols or innovations without a silicon spin.”
But lately, Innovium is downplaying Teralynx’s programmability.
Amit Sanyal, Innovium’s VP of marketing, said, “We support data plane programmability. That gives customers investment protection so that in the future if there’s a new protocol or network function, they’re able to support that on the same switch chip.” However, he added that a lot of large-scale data center companies are offloading network functions from servers and onto network interface cards (NICs), rather than offloading these functions onto programmable chips. He said switch chip programmability is “more of an insurance policy.” And Sanyal added, “The largest data center customers are not programming the network fabric on a daily basis. We have that programmability only for niche applications.”
That sentiment is basically the argument Marvell recently made for nixing its Xpliant programmable switch chip. Eric Hayes, SVP and general manager of networking at Marvell, said hyperscalers don’t find value in switch programmability. “We found at Xpliant that programmability offers value in niche applications,” he said. As far as niches, he cited network monitoring, packet brokering, load balancing, and prototyping of new technologies.
Sanyal stressed that Innovium has priorities for Teralynx, and those are: performance, latency, power efficiency, and cost. “Those are higher orders of priority than programmability,” he said.
While Innovium is downplaying programmability, it is stressing four-level pulse amplitude modulation (PAM4), which is a new modulation scheme to move bits faster.
Sanyal said PAM4 will be necessary in data centers as Ethernet switching moves to 400GbE. “In order to do 400 gig you need PAM4-based signaling and support,” he said. “All the optics vendors are now moving to PAM4-based signaling, which will enable them to run more cost effectively and with higher performance. The switch needs to support that technology.”
Teralynx includes the PAM4 technology. And Broadcom recently announced a 200G Ethernet controller with PAM4.
In conclusion, Sanyal said, “I think we have a big lead in the market for PAM4-based solutions. We are a compelling vendor to enable the silicon diversity that customers are looking for.”