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Mellanox cranks 1U switches to 40GE

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Two weeks after unveiling its switch-hitting, two-timing SwitchX ASIC for InfiniBand and Ethernet switches and routers, Mellanox has rolled out the first switches that make use of the chip. In this case, the SwitchX chip is being used to make a line of 40 Gigabit Ethernet switches aimed at bandwidth and low-latency freaks like the ones who hammer the world's stock and commodity trading systems.

Mellanox unveiled two nearly indistinguishable 1U rack-mounted switches sporting 10GE and 40GE ports at the Interop networking shindig, which is underway this week in Las Vegas. As Mellanox told El Reg two weeks ago, while the SwitchX ASIC was designed to float both ways – Ethernet or InfiniBand – and do both equally well, the company would at first put static Ethernet or InfiniBand switches into the field using the new chip before it put out a switch that could change its personality on the fly or support a mix of Ethernet and InfiniBand switching on the same device.

This will take another 12 to 18 months, so don't think it is around the corner. (If Mellanox customers are lucky, with InfiniBand and Ethernet moving to QSFP cabling, it will be a software upgrade on existing hardware as well as on new hardware).

From the spec sheets, the sx1035 and sx1036 switches are identical, but obviously there is some difference between the two. As it turns out, the sx1036 has a more full-featured Layer 2 stack and a slightly higher price. The sx1035 can be field upgraded to the sx1036 for a modest fee.

For the moment, let's just talk about them as the sx1000 Series, as Mellanox does.

The Mellanox sx1000 Series 40GE top-of-racker

The sx1000 switches have 2.88Tb/sec of throughput and sport 36 ports running at 40GE speeds. With 4Tb/sec of switching and routing bandwidth, the SwitchX chip can handle FDR just fine and has plenty of room to grow; it will no doubt be able to handle 100GE in some fashion not too far in the future. (The chip can also accommodate Fourteen Data Rate (FDR) InfiniBand, which runs at 56Gb/sec, and no doubt there will be InfiniBand variants of these devices before too long.) The sx1000 Series keeps four of the ports as uplinks and can use QSFP to quad SFP+ breakout cables to convert the switch from 32 ports for server connectivity running at 40GE to 64 ports running at 10GE.

There are also options to do a 56 10GE and eight 40GE or 48 10GE and twelve 40GE splits using the breakout cables. Mellanox says that the port-to-port latency on the 10GE ports is about 250 nanoseconds, and on the 40GE ports, it is about 230 nanoseconds. (The press release from Mellanox says microseconds, but that is incorrect.) Each 40GE port burns about 1.3 watts; the rating for the 10GE ports and the overall switch under load was not available at press time.

There are different sub-models of the sx1000 Series switches depending on whether you want the airflow from front-to-back or back-to-front.

The sx1000 Series will start shipping by the end of the second quarter and have a suggested retail price of $1,500 per 40GE port. So you're talking $54,000 list price for one of these top-of-rackers. This is somewhere between 2.5 and 3 times the cost of 10GE ports, which is reasonable given the bandwidth improvements but maybe not if you are thinking only about latency. The street price of the sx1000 switches are expected to be somewhere between 60 and 70 per cent of list, or around $32,400 to $37,800 – or between $900 and $1,050 per port. ®

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