Broadcom will ship Trident II chips to switch makers this quarter

After a six-month delay, Broadcom's StrataXGS Trident II chip is shipping at volumes high enough for switch manufacturers to start building product.

After some delay, Broadcom said it will ship full production volumes of its StrataXGS Trident II network chip to switch manufacturers this quarter.

Several switch makers plan to use the Trident II to deliver new high-density data center switches with a range of new features, including support for Virtual Extensible LAN (VXLAN), the tunneling protocol that will enable vendors to integrate with network virtualization platforms like VMware NSX. The Trident II is a 1.28 Tbps, Layer 2 and Layer 3 chip that supports 96 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports or 32 40 GbE ports within a single rack unit device.

Trident II a little late to market

Broadcom announced the Trident II in August 2012 and originally intended to start shipping production quantities of the chip to switch makers in spring 2013, but supply has been a little slow in coming. Rumors have circulated claiming some switch makers are worried they won't get enough chips in time to keep their product roadmaps on schedule.

"It does seem, based on anecdotal information, that supplies [of Trident II] are ramping a little more slowly than anticipated," said Brad Casemore, research director for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "Broadcom may try to manage this so everyone gets enough supply to satisfy their most high-priority customers."

Broadcom denied rumors that switch vendors have been left in a lurch. The Trident II has been shipping at "pre-production" volumes since the second quarter of this year and will be ramped up to full production volume shipments by the fourth quarter, which began last week, said Rochan Sankar, director of product marketing for the Core Switch group at Broadcom. Broadcom defines pre-production volumes as shipments that are sufficient for switch manufacturers to integrate new chips into their systems. Sankar said the number of Trident II chips shipping to manufacturers is already quite high.

"We're already heavily ramped up [with Trident II shipments] and we're effectively supporting customer production. When we declare our own production milestones for our corporate controls [it] is somewhat disjointed from when customers will declare product availability and shipping milestones." Sankar said some vendors might start shipping products before Broadcom actually announces it is shipping production quantities of the chip. In fact, Arista Networks has done just that.

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Several vendors are counting on the Trident II for a new generation of top-of-rack switches. Hewlett Packard (HP) and Dell announced the FlexFabric 5930AF and the S6000, respectively, in August. Both switches are probably based on the Trident II. Dell originally said its switch would ship in October, but now its website says "late 2013." HP said the 5930AF would start shipping in December, but the switch has yet to appear in its online product listings. Cisco announced the Nexus 3100 last week and said it would start shipping the switch in November. Based on product specs, the switch is probably based on the Trident II. The release was unusually low-key and jumbled. Cisco offered latency numbers on the switch during a press briefing, but then pulled them back, saying they wouldn't be official until November.

Arista Networks announced the 7050X a day after the Nexus 3100 announcement and bucked the trend by saying the switch is already commercially available and in production with some customers. However, even Arista appeared to experience some delays. Its executives told a gathering of analysts recently that a new generation of its switches, most likely the 7050X, was delayed because the merchant silicon the company uses had required some re-engineering, according to one analyst who was there, Peter Christy, research director at New York-based 451 Research.

Broadcom characterized the delays as minor revisions based on the feedback it received from manufacturers after the chip maker sent out samples last year.

"There is always some engineering work that continues [after manufacturers receive samples], and chips typically always go through re-spins no matter which vendor it is," Broadcom's Sankar said. "There was nothing major from a functionality perspective in the Trident II that we had to address, but there is always feedback from customers that we incorporate. There was a cycle of that involved earlier this year, but it was a minor revision to the silicon that we ended up taking to production."

Sankar said a wave of Trident II-based switch announcements should hit the market soon. "I think you will see [new switch] announcements in the next few months, and that will extend [the Trident II] to multi-RU and even chassis-based configurations for the data center and for other markets," he said.

Arista early to market with Trident II

It's no secret that Arista has enjoyed a tight relationship with Broadcom. Given that the 7050X is shipping to customers well ahead of the competition, it appears the affiliation is paying off.

"We have a good relationship with Broadcom," said Anshul Sadana, Arista's senior vice president of customer engineering. "This is not so much about who's getting the chips, but [is] based on where the customer demand is. We are getting what I would say are a fair share of supply. I don't believe this is a shortage of chips, but [it] is a question of who is ready to use the chips."

"Arista is distinguished by their aggressive use of merchant silicon parts," said 451's Christy. "It may very well still be true that Arista gets the largest access to the chip. That's the way it works in the silicon business. Customers with the most important relationships and the most money get parts in volume before others do."

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