SAN JOSE, Calif. – Competitors of Cisco Systems have been talking smack lately, claiming the router giant is increasingly turning to off-the-shelf chips instead of building its own ASICs. Not so, says one of the router and switch giant's top silicon honchos in an exclusive interview with EE Times.
“Our investments [in ASICs] have been and continue to be large,” said Dan Lenoski who manages a team of about 125 of Cisco’s 750 chip designers. “That investment has been steady and increased since in 2000 because communications interfaces are getting faster,” Lenoski explained.
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The raw number of ASIC designs may have declined over the years due to greater silicon integration, said Lenoski. Still, Cisco launches as many as several dozen new ASIC programs annually. It is widely regarded as one of the world’s largest ASIC developers and hosts its own annual “Chips at Cisco” conference for its engineers.
“The future in our mind is clearly [about] continued investment,” said Lenoski. “We do see merchant silicon sometimes filling our needs, but we can’t do packet processing and forwarding at the rates we want to hit and control our destiny without our own silicon."
For example, Lenoski’s team, which designs chips for Cisco’s data center group, recently announced Monticello, a 40-nm chip that powers the company’s Nexus 3548 switch. The 412-mm2 chip packs 2.5 billion transistors delivering 48 ports of 10 Gbit/second Ethernet with 250-nanosecond latency in standard mode and as little as 50 nanoseconds in a dedicated mode. The latter is geared to Wall Street’s high-frequency traders and other speed demons.