Higher Scale at Better Economics Driving 112G PAM4 Ecosystem New SerDes Technology to Usher in Wave of Next Generation Networking

Higher Scale at Better Economics Driving 112G PAM4 Ecosystem
New SerDes Technology to Usher in Wave of Next Generation Networking

April 1, 2020

2020 is off to a fast start with next-generation announcements of SerDes technologies kicking off a promising year of networking announcements and deployments, each with meaningful economic improvements over current offerings. 112G SerDes is a key building block to moving the networking industry forward. Not only will 112G SerDes be used in second-generation 400 Gbps ports, but it is also the building block for 800 Gbps and a pivotal technology for cloud and service providers.

The journey towards future network topologies has a lot of innovation and changes in store with incredible changes in how most businesses operate and individuals live, work, and play. 112 Gbps SERDES and chip architectures will drive a new wave of data center and metro/ regional spine switches. The definition of a high-end switch will likely evolve to 1RU, 32 ports of 800 Gbps and other switch configurations, and eventually move towards on-board optics and silicon photonics. The number of use cases for traditional data center switches will increase significantly in the next five years.

What is different about SerDes technology in the 112 Gbps generation is the increased emphasis the industry has placed on the technology as a cornerstone building block technology. There has been an increase in the number of companies working towards this technology compared to a limited selection with 56 Gbps SerDes. At DesignCon, we saw Inphi, Cadence, and Credo all showcase next-generation SerDes. At OCP and OFC, mostly virtual demos included 400 Gbps PHY with MACsec, Xilinx, and Molex show off next-generation offerings and the progress on the MSA of QSFP-DD at 800 Gbps.

Google and other hyperscalers are pushing the industry towards 800 Gbps optics modules; 400 Gbps optics modules already use 100G optical wavelengths. 800 Gbps optics is achievable by changing the electrical signals to 100G per lane. With Inphi’s announcement of Spica, the world’s first 800Gbps or 8x100Gbps PAM4 DSP, we expect to see early samples of 800G optics modules by fall this year. Switch ASICs are ready to move as well, 25.6 Tbps ASICs are right around the corner with 112 Gbps SerDes. That opens the door for various fabric switch configurations solutions (e.g. 32-port 800G switch, 48-port 100G switches with 800G uplinks etc).

Beyond the SerDes, the industry is rapidly innovating on cabling and optics. Announcements to date all have significant economic advantages, and the technological hurdles of stepping up from 56 Gbps to 112 Gbps are more straight forward. The industry also has numerous BiPass/flyover cable approaches to handle higher density ASICs as current faceplate density with DD-QSFP and OSFP is maxed out in a 1RU form factor switch; Molex, Samtech and others have showed their solutions at recent conferences.

Compact fabric switches have many use cases beyond the data center. Service Provider networks (fronthaul, midhaul, backhaul) and enterprises also benefit from the improved economics of 112 Gbps SerDes. Increased volume not only will benefit the Hyperscalers but also benefit the entire supply chain by having a technology building block that can be repurposed across multiple use cases and lasting for over a decade.

With more ecosystem suppliers, the 112 Gbps ecosystem is starting strong and vibrant, with many lessons learned from developing 56 Gbps SerDes. While some in-person demos were canceled in early March, the industry has shown great progress this year in just 3 months. It is becoming clear that the hyperscalers and the rest of the market will move rapidly to this next technology as soon as it is widely available, and with broad supply chain support, we are very optimistic about its adoption.

By Alan Weckel, Founder and Technology Analyst at 650 Group.