Enter Ethernet

Fulcrum Microsystems has announced FocalPoint, a 10-Gigabit Ethernet switch chip family with 200 nanoseconds of total latency, a ten times improvement over existing solutions.

Fulcrum Microsystems has announced FocalPoint, a 10-Gigabit Ethernet switch chip family with 200 nanoseconds (ns) of total latency, a ten-times improvement over existing solutions, making Ethernet the new cost-effective and high-performance choice for storage, computing and networking backplane and interconnect applications.

Fulcrum says FocalPoint switches are fully-integrated, single-chip solutions that contain as many as 24 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports and cost less than $20 per port.

The low latency of FocalPoint switches means Ethernet is comparable to specialty data centre interconnects such as Fibre Channel, InfiniBand, and Myrinet and can be used as an interconnect for high-performance computing and storage systems. Ten Gigabit Ethernet can also now be used as a cost-effective backplane fabric for blade computing systems or AdvancedTCA and other networking systems.

“History has shown that once Ethernet becomes good enough for an application, it dominates that application. FocalPoint’s rich feature set and low latency means Ethernet is now better than the high-speed interconnect alternatives and ready for these applications,” said Bob Nunn, president and CEO of Fulcrum Microsystems.

FocalPoint is said to be the first Ethernet switch to implement support for advanced data centre topologies, such as fat trees, a multi-tier network design that links switches at each tier to maintain high bandwidth between the endpoints. Fat tree networks are increasingly used for storage and clustered computing applications. With low latency and a set of data centre features, FocalPoint reportedly enables the build-out of multi-tier fat tree systems of thousands of non-blocking ports, while maintaining sub-microsecond latency from any port in the network to any other port.

“The use of multiple fabric technologies within industry-standard platforms extends the range of applications that can be addressed, but this will tend to fragment the market, reducing the number of vendors supplying particular configurations,” said Simon Stanley, principal consultant, Earlswood Marketing and research analyst for Light Reading’s Comm Chip Insider. “Fulcrum is betting that by eliminating the latency issues with Ethernet switching, the vast ecosystem that surrounds Ethernet will drive much-needed consolidation.”

Initially, Fulcrum is offering two members of the FocalPoint product family, the FM2224 and FM2112.

FM2224 contains 24 quad-SerDes 10-Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, each of which can be configured to operate in 10 Gbps, 2.5 Gbps, and 10/100/1000 modes.

FM2112 contains eight quad-SerDes 10-Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, along with 16 single-SerDes interfaces that can support 2.5 Gbps and 10/100/1000 operating modes. The device is intended to provide an economical solution for dense 2.5 Gbps and 1 Gbps applications.

Both devices offer a robust set of standards-compliant layer-two Ethernet switch features, including rich VLAN support, link aggregation, port- and MAC-based security, and Spanning Tree link management. The switches feature shared and protected packet storage memory, and support 16K MAC address entries.

At the core of both devices are two patented Fulcrum technology blocks: Nexus Terabit Crossbar, and RapidArray Packet Memory. Nexus leverages Fulcrum’s asynchronous technology foundation to deliver more than a Terabit-per-second of non-blocking throughput with 3ns of internal latency. RapidArray combines the fast data path of the Nexus crossbar with standard foundry state bits to deliver packet memories that offer twice the throughput of commercial memories, while maintaining comparable density and yield.

Nexus and RapidArray are power-efficient technologies, drawing about half the power per port of competing solutions, and consuming power in direct proportion to traffic load. This results in power consumption of a modest 150mW per Gbps under full load.

Both chips will be sampling in January 2006. The US list price for the 24-port FM2224 is $450 in 5,000 unit quantities; the price for the 8/16-port FM2112 is $265 in 10,000 unit quantities. A fully-integrated 1U-high evaluation platform containing 24 10-Gigabit Ethernet CX4 interfaces will be available in January for rapid test and development.