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Cisco Silicon One Becomes One Essential Value Proposition for CSPs and Web Scale Data Centers
by Ron Westfall | October 26, 2020

The News: Cisco announced six new 7nm additions to the Cisco Silicon One portfolio: three web scale switching devices, and three high-scale and deep-buffered routing devices covering an expanded performance range between 3.2Tbps and 12.8Tbps. The Cisco Silicon One portfolio now covers the space from service provider and web scale routers to the Top of Rack (TOR) switches. With one architecture, one Software Development Kit (SDK), and one P4 forwarding code, Cisco Silicon One is developed to unify the network across routing and web scale switching. Read the full Cisco Blog.

Cisco Silicon One: One Architecture, One Form Factor, One Design

Analyst Take: Cisco Silicon One is the bedrock for Cisco’s Internet for the Future blueprint and the latest additions affirm Cisco’s ability to transform the economics of the Internet. With the new offerings, Cisco is reinforcing Silicon One’s strategic mission of providing one architecture, along with one SDK and one forwarding code, in order to deliver one form factor, one design, and one network to customers, yielding a superlative experience for the entire value chain.

Cisco needed to introduce the Cisco Silicon One Q200 and Q200L products to sustain the market momentum it gained with the debut of the Q100 (co-developed with Google Cloud), integral to the Internet for the Future launch of December 2019, which also included the debut of the Cisco 8000, IOS-XR7, and new business model offerings. To review, the Q200 uses a 7nm process with programmable P4 engines and deepened buffers. At 12.8Tbps, the Q200 allows clients to build a 32X400GE 1RU router with a single ASIC, in contrast to equivalent alternative offerings that require between two and ten pieces of silicon (e.g., Broadcom). The Q201 and Q202 extend the portfolio to support lower bandwidth and less expensive 64X100 GE and 32X100GE IRU systems.

As a result, for a 12.8T router system the Q200 delivers over 70% power consumption savings over competing implementation requiring dual 7.2T or 6.4T chips. Through lower power consumption, the Q200 enables a threefold decrease of ongoing expenses, underlining why the Cisco Silicon One proposition provides clear silicon-level differentiation that can yield breakthrough routing systems economics.

In addition, Cisco unveiled the Q200L aimed at the web scale switching market. The Q200L is a P4 programmable 7nm 12.8Tbps web scale switch device and is footprint compatible with a 32X400GE 1RU router, enabling hardware-design support for 32X400GE Web switch, streamlining development costs for both Q200 and Q200L devices. To meet the full range of customer deployment requirements, Cisco also provides downscale Q200L 6.4Tbps and 3.2Tbps Web scale switches.

Of note, Cisco calculates that using its new Silicon One devices in modelled Web scale data center networks can produce substantial power and cost savings in relation to competing silicon. Applying PUE (power usage effectiveness) metric considerations in these environments can result in significant power efficiencies including 30% power reduction and 580kW savings.

Through its single expandable architecture approach, Cisco Silicon One defines the language for domain blocks to flexibly communicate with each other and optimizing critical networking functions such as providing three tiers of traffic management – simple traffic management, lean edge traffic management, and heavy edge traffic management – according to the customers need. This forms the basis for flexibly delivering multiple devices in both the routing and Web scale switching segments.

The combination of one architecture, SDK, and P4 forwarding code assures customers that one form factor is all that is required to meet their deployment requirements including standalone fixed box, modular system line card mix-and-match, and disaggregated chassis options. As a result, the same single design fulfills both modular and disaggregated implementations in standalone, line card, and fabric element modes, including fully scheduled, VOQ fabric disaggregated environments.

Cisco Silicon One: Meeting the Challenges of Ecosystem-wide Digital Transformation

The Cisco Silicon One value proposition is integral to fulfilling Cisco’s Internet for the Future vision of proactively transforming Internet economics. Cisco recognizes the tectonic shifts ongoing in the Mass infrastructure realm, including hyperscale data centers and service provider networks, and it is a primary factor for its decision to directly enter the network infrastructure silicon space.

A great deal of attention is devoted to the long-term prospects of Cisco’s hardware router sales, especially as open network models and white box switching architectures gain traction as evidenced by AT&T’s selection of the DriveNets cloud-based disaggregated core routing solution. To be clear Cisco’s routing portfolio now accommodates the requirements of each customer according to their demands, such as providing fixed-only solutions, modular and disaggregated solutions, as well as the blending of all three solutions, acknowledging that each customer will have their unique demands throughout their transformation journeys.

Integral to Cisco’s differentiation in the evolving routing realm is Silicon One. With Silicon One, Cisco immediately diversifies its revenue streams, but also equally important can drive the portfolio development destiny of its portfolio in key areas like Web scale data centers and intent-based networks. This includes differentiation against key rivals such as Juniper, Nokia, Arista, Huawei, and ZTE in extending supply chain and migration assurances in challenging hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments. In fact, I see the geopolitical U.S.-China standoff is elevating silicon supply chain reliability (as well as overall supply chain reliability) as a prime consideration in vendor selection of network infrastructure solutions playing to Cisco’s overall competitive advantage in markets outside China.

Cisco is guarding its silicon manufacturing and fabrication arrangements although we see supply chain assurances as a key differentiator for Silicon One. From my perspective, the network infrastructure landscape is shifting dramatically and Cisco is executing greater lengths than most infrastructure supplier rivals in meeting the fast evolving requirements and demands of mass infrastructure organizations.

Cisco Silicon One: Key Takeaways

Cisco is both driving and fulfilling the key differentiators in the selection of silicon devices and infrastructure solutions. I believe Cisco’s prioritization of power consumption metrics will win battles in key domains such as routing and Web scale switching to augment any competitive advantages in areas such as price/performance, security, supply stability, and architectural agility. Power consumption metrics such as PUE will take on greater importance in areas like data centers as organizations put more emphasis on their green credentials while also gaining economic benefits and broadening their social responsibility credentials.

I view Cisco’s approach as also aligning with the necessity of the entire semiconductor industry moving beyond Moore’s Law, particularly as the chipset process approaches the 3nm threshold. The question of what comes next is germane since players in the semiconductor industry for years have advocated that the smaller the node number the better the technical capabilities. However, using the transistor gate length metric (e.g., 12nm, 10nm, 7nm, 5nm, 3nm, etc.) is running up against the sheer physics of literally counting atoms that constitute the gate length (i.e., 12 atoms or less now for 3nm and sub-3nm). So what comes next?

TSMC is proposing a new approach, co-authoring “A Density Metric for Semiconductor Technology” including authors from MIT, Stanford, and UCal-Berkeley. The proposal calls for a broader density-metric, defined as the LMC density metric, which simultaneously accounts for logic, memory, and connectivity (i.e., packaging/integration) technologies. I believe Cisco Silicon One’s marketing is attuned to addressing the tectonic shifts across the digital ecosystems.

Cisco Silicon One is fundamentally enabling Cisco to differentiate its merchant silicon and networking portfolio and go-to-market strategy in an agile way that gives organizations greater flexibility in purchasing Cisco solutions as well as adopting new business models. Cisco’s main rivals will prove hard-pressed to directly counter its six new Silicon One devices, all delivered in less than a year, executing on its commitment to accelerate expansion of the Silicon One portfolio.

Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.

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