Fibre Channel Hits 64G under Broadcom

Article By : Rick Merritt

Emulex hits 5 million IOPS

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Broadcom’s Emulex group announced next-generation Fibre Channel storage cards and chips, aiming to nudge the market forward. Emulex is bullish on the prospects for its 64-Gbit/s products, although at least one market researcher characterized the overall market as stable.

The Emulex LPe35000 cards and XE601 controller are available today, but they need 64G optical modules that are just starting to sample and PCIe Gen 4 connections that are not yet generally available on x86 servers. “By the end of 2019 or early 2020, we’ll see production shipments of those things,” said Jeff Hoogenboom, general manager of Broadcom’s Emulex division.

Ethernet has been expanding the set of jobs that it handles in computer networks, but Fibre Channel got an uptick recently with the rise of solid-state drive (SSD) arrays.

“We think there’s another step coming as SSDs with the NVMe interface get deployed,” said Hoogenboom, noting that the new cards support latencies similar to Ethernet. “The new requirements will be just as dramatic because the bottlenecks change with NVMe.”

Analyst Seamus Crehan of Crehan Research is less upbeat. As he said in an email exchange, he expects Fibre Channel cards to “see revenue growth in the mid-single-digit range in 2018, as it is somewhat of a recovery year for the market. After that, I expect that market revenues will be somewhat stable going forward.”

In part by pushing the next generation aggressively, Emulex hopes to gain share in Fibre Channel from its sole rival QLogic, now part of Marvell. So far, Dell EMC said that it will make the Emulex Gen 7 Fibre Channel cards and controllers available on its PowerEdge servers.

“All-flash arrays are almost 70% of the market now, weighed down by China, which is about 50%,” said Hoogenboom. “The big shift will happen in China this year.”

“In the last two quarters, our 16G share in China rose to over 60% from under 30%, and 16G follows the all-flash systems,” he added. “So by the end of 2019, new storage systems should be based on SSDs for the most part.”

For his part, analyst Crehan projects that Fibre Channel cards with speeds of 32G and higher will make up more than half of total Fibre Channel market revenues by 2020.

The 32G/64G Emulex products deliver more than 5 million I/O operations/second (IOPS) at less than 10-microsecond round-trip latencies. That’s up from 1.6 million IOPS and 30-microsecond latencies on the prior-generation 16G/32G products that rode the PCIe Gen 3 bus.

The latest Emulex chips use the same 16-nm node and dual-threaded Arm 968 cores as the last generation. But the new chips were optimized with faster data paths and new software drivers that enable faster speeds, allow over-the-air upgrades, and ease the job of isolating and fixing network faults.

After a wave of consolidation, the Fibre Channel market is now served by just four companies — two card makers and two switch vendors. Avago acquired Emulex in 2015 just before it merged with Broadcom. A year later, Cavium bought rival QLogic and then merged with Marvell last year. Broadcom’s Brocade group, acquired in 2016, supplies system-level Fibre Channel switches, competing with switches from Cisco.

Broadcom is well-positioned in wired networks whether Ethernet or Fibre Channel gain ground. Overall, analysts are upbeat on the company’s diverse portfolio after its latest quarterly report.

“Broadcom is our top pick for 2019 as we believe [the acquisition of] CA Technologies gives the company several idiosyncratic qualities that should drive our performance, including revenue growth, margin expansion, and a higher dividend,” wrote Romit Shah of Nomura.

Nomura raised performance estimates and maintained a buy rating on the company after it reported higher-than-expected revenues and margins. Broadcom said that it expects to grow revenues in its 2019 fiscal year to $24.5 billion, $19.5 billion of them from chips and about $5 billion from infrastructure software.

Although its wireless group declined with loss of share in Apple iPhones, “Broadcom’s wired portfolio is well-positioned to gain share in targeted end markets and [we] expect healthy ongoing growth trends to drive overall company growth,” wrote analyst Michael Walkley of Canaccord Genuity in a report. “In fact, the mid-single-digit growth target for its semiconductor business was above our expectations of 3% growth.”

— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times

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