I simply cannot wrap my brain around the way technology is racing along at the moment. I keep thinking back to the days of my youth – when I was 16, for example – when we had one small television in our house (the picture tended to roll around a lot, but at least it was color) and one telephone. The telephone was in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs – it sat on its own little table and was plugged into the wall, so you couldn’t wander around the house with it.
In those days of yore, we didn’t even dream of things like home computers and the Internet and smart cell phones that could take pictures and stream videos (and even make the occasional telephone call).
When computers did come along, we talked in terms of a few kilobytes of memory and communications bandwidths of a few thousand bits per second. Do you remember the warbling of the old dial-up connections? You could almost hear the individual bits going back and forth (grin).
Then we started talking about megabytes of data (10^6), then gigabytes (10^9), and now terabytes (10^12). Next up will be petabytes (10^15) followed by exabytes (10^18). In fact we seem to have an insatiable demand for bandwidth. At the current rate of growth, by 2014 we’ll be seeing 64 exabytes of IP traffic PER MONTH.
And how are we going to handle all of this data? Well, one obvious choice is FPGAs, whose capacity, performance, and bandwidth capabilities are progressing in leaps and bounds.
Just today, for example, Xilinx have announced their forthcoming Virtex-7 HT family of devices, which will be implemented at the 28nm technology node, and which will enable 100-400 Gbps applications and beyond – in a single FPGA – for next generation communication systems.
The new Virtex-7 HT FPGAs – with up to SIXTEEN 28 Gbps serial transceivers – will enable communication equipment vendors to develop the integrated, high-bandwidth-efficient systems necessary to keep pace with the exploding global demand for more bandwidth in the wired infrastructure and datacenters. Xilinx say that these new devices will be equipped with the industry's highest-speed and lowest jitter serial transceivers available in an FPGA to support stringent optical and backplane protocols.
When I was chatting to the folks at Xilinx a few days ago, they were kind enough to give me a demonstration of their 28 Gbps transceivers in action. You can see Jack (the guy who gave me the demo) in the photo below – this is a snapshot I took from our video conference (which goes to show where some of the IP bandwidth is being used [grin]).
On the other hand, just to remind ourselves that even though “we have the technology” we might not always be able to use it, no one at their end could work out how to use their new speakerphone, which explains why Jack is holding an old-fashioned handset to his ear (“How 20th century, my dear!”
But I digress... "Industry expectations for global IP traffic to approach 64 exabytes per month from today's roughly 15 exabytes per month is fueling the need for higher bandwidth system-on-chip solutions capable of driving high-speed signals with superior signal integrity and low-power efficiency for deployment over fiber optic and other existing infrastructures,"
says Linley Group Senior Analyst Joseph Byrne. "As the communications industry increases interface speed from 10 Gbps to 100 Gbps to provide more capacity, requirements for chip-to-optics, chip-to-backplane, and chip-to-chip interfaces become extremely stringent. As such, Xilinx has put a keen focus balancing power, performance, optical jitter constraints and integration in delivering 28 Gbps transceivers with its Virtex-7 HT devices."
But 100 Gbps is just the start; next-generation system line cards will range from 100 – 400 Gbps. Thus, the fact that Virtex-7 HT devices will offer four to sixteen 28Gbps transceivers complying with OIF CEI-28G, the Optical Internetworking Forum's Common Electrical I/O specification for 28 Gbps, means these mega-FPGAs will be able to interface to the next-generation CFP2 and QSFP2 optical modules that will be used in the next-generation 100 - 400 Gbps system line cards (I know, I’m saying “next-generation” a lot – I can’t help it).
By all accounts, Virtex-7 HT FPGAs are going to be incredible. In addition to their four to sixteen 28Gbps transceivers, they also offer up to seventy-two 13.1 Gbps transceivers, resulting in a full duplex throughput of up to 2.8 Tbps. This extends the Virtex-7 family's total system performance, with 2x the logic capacity, 1.3x greater memory bandwidth, 2x better static power efficiency, and now 2.7x higher bandwidth over comparable competing devices (at least, over any devuces that have been announced thus far).
The devices’ feature-mix allows for a wide range of applications, from low-cost 100G "smart gearbox" chips with 290,000 logic cells to the world's first 400 Gbps FPGA with 870,000 logic cells including applications from 100 Gbps, 2 x 100 Gbps, or 400 Gbps interfaces, and efficient connectivity to legacy system-side interfaces based on 3 Gbps or 6 Gbps as well as 10 Gbps ASICs and ASSPs.
This means that Virtex-7 HT FPGAs can be used in applications such as 100Gbps line cards supporting OTU-4 (Optical Transfer Unit) transponders, muxponders or SARs (Service Aggregation Routers), lower-cost 120 Gbps packet processing line cards for high demanding data processing, multiple 100G Ethernet port bridges, 400 Gbps Ethernet line cards, base stations, and remote radio heads with 19.6 Gbps CPRI (Common Public Radio Interface) requirements, and 100 Gbps and 400 Gbps test equipment (phew!).
If you want to see more, signal integrity expert Dr. Howard Johnson conducts a demonstration of the Virtex-7 HT FPGA's 28Gbps serial transceiver in a new video posted on www.xilinx.com
. The demonstration uses a real-world PRBS31 pattern to highlight a wide open eye and the jitter performance required to interface to next generation CFP2 optics. To see the video, please visit www.xilinx.com/28gbps
ISE Design Suite software tool support for Virtex-7 FPGAs is available today. The first Virtex-7 HT devices are scheduled to be available in the first half of 2012. Pricing
If you have to ask, you can’t afford them! (Sorry, that’s just my way of saying that I don’t know because this hasn’t been announced yet.)