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Broadcom Enables Programmable 100-GbE Switches

Broadcom has introduced a new line of 100-Gbps Ethernet (GbE) switch processors that can be reprogrammed to add new functionality and support new protocols as they come along. The BCM88030 network processor unit (NPU) can be deployed in switches in the Internet back-haul layer after traffic is aggregated from the access layer, be it at the base station of a wireless network or where multiple endpoints on an ISP’s wired network come together at "the on-ramp to the Internet, if you will," says Nicolas Tausanovitch, senior product line manager at the company's infrastructure and networking group.

Internet back-haul switches are being asked to handle exponentially more traffic than that on typical data center or enterprise networks, he says. While those networks are gradually transitioning from 1GbE connectivity to 10GbE, to 40GbE and eventually 100GbE, most service provider and Internet back-haul networks are going to completely skip over the 40GbE step.

A forecast from Infonetics Research predicts a compound annual growth rate of 170% in the number of 100-Gbps ports deployed through 2016.

Infonetics released a survey in January of service providers and their 40G/100G deployment plans. It showed that the top three reasons operators are deploying higher-speed 40G/100G equipment are to lower the cost per bit for new transmission, to gain superior performance and to lower incremental equipment costs. Also, most respondents indicated that 40G, if they are deploying it, is only a short-term solution and that they will move the majority of installations to 100G once those products are more widely available.

NPUs from Broadcom and other vendors already feature programmability so that functionality can be added and new protocols can be supported as they are developed. A "fixed-function" device would be too expensive to replace with one with new features, says Tausanovitch. But what’s new with the BCM88030 is that it includes a microcode development environment, which is essentially a software development kit, so end users can reprogram the processor.

"In the past ... if customers needed to change the functionality, they could ask us to customize the software and provide it to them. But the tools that we used were not at all user-friendly," he says. "What we offer here is the ability to have a device that users can reprogram to address new protocols."

The BCM88030 family features 64 custom processors running at 1GHz, delivering what Broadcom says is more than twice the throughput of any other NPU on the market. The 100-Gbps processor can be mixed in with 1-Gbps and 10-Gbps processors in a network line card as the customer sees fit. The new processor eliminates costly external components, dramatically reducing system cost and power consumption by up to 80% per port.

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