SAN JOSE, Calif. Solarflare Communications debuts Monday (August 24) two chips that mark a significant milestone on the road to the long delayed transition to 10 Gbit/second Ethernet. However, the industry still faces a host of challenges eking out mainstream markets for 10 Gbit Ethernet over copper.
Solarflare is sampling single-chip 10GBase-T controllers that consume less than 8W for single-port or 13W for dual-port versions. The company hopes the chips get planted on server motherboards by 2011.
The 10 Gbit transition has been delayed by the relatively high cost and power consumption of chips as well as a need to upgrade copper cables. To meet the historical promise of running a full 100 meters, end users need to upgrade their copper networks from the widely used Category 5 to Category 6a cables.
Solarflare was among the early startups driving the 10GBase-T standard for copper and designing physical layer chips for it. Last year the company acquired Level 5 for its low power 90nm controller that Solarflare said it would marry with its 65nm PHY.
The new SFL9021 and SFL9022 chips integrate the two designs in a 65nm chip that has been upgraded to support 5 GHz PCI Express and the single-root I/O virtualization standard. "We are pretty sure this is the first time anyone has put this on a single monolithic chip," said Bruce Tolley, vice president of corporate marketing of Solarflare.
"Most competitors will need to get to 40nm do match this, but it looks like several vendors will sample those parts early next year." said Bob Wheeler, analyst for market watcher The Linley Group (Mountain View, Calif.).
Despite its three to six month lead, Solarflare will need to wait for the next time server makers rev their motherboards. That's not expected to happen until the middle of next year when OEMs get their hands on Intel's first 32nm Sandybridge processors, Wheeler said.
In addition, a narrowing slice of server designs need the 100 meter reach of 10GBase-T. A growing group of designs are using server blades using the 10GBase-KR standard for 10G over backplanes, and rack servers are using 10Gbit over cheaper short reach cables such as SFP+ and CX4.
Nevertheless, market watcher Dell'Oro Group project the market for 10G Ethernet components will rise from less than $200 million this year to $1.2 billion in 2013. A third of the market in 2013 will be for LAN-on-motherboard chips like those from Solarflare, the group predicts.