Having dated for a while, Xilinx gets serious and buys Solarflare to raise its networking game

FPGAs + NICs = profit

100GbE SmartNIC form Solarflare and Xilinx
Solarflare and Xilinx's SmartNIC

FPGA daddy Xilinx is buying California-based silicon design startup Solarflare Communications to improve its networking credentials.

Solarflare uses field-programmable gate arrays to build SmartNICs – network interface cards that run network, storage and compute acceleration using specialised on-board chips, eliminating the need to run these workloads on CPUs. This can simultaneously improve server performance and enable 10Gb Ethernet connectivity.

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Solarflare also develops application acceleration software that helps customers take full advantage of the cards. Historically, the company's products have been aimed at the financial services industry, where minimising latency is paramount.

Solarflare is headquartered in Irvine, California, with R&D facilities in the US, UK and India.

Xilinx said the deal fits into its "data centre first" strategy, unveiled last year and intended to transform it from a chip vendor into a platform company – like Intel, Nvidia or Arm.

The financial details of the acquisition have not been disclosed.

Xilinx invented the first commercial FPGA back in 1985 and is considered a pioneer of the fabless semiconductor production model – since it has never owned any manufacturing facilities. The company counts Huawei, SK Telecom and Microsoft among its customers, with more than half of Azure servers reportedly containing some form of Xilinx wizardry.

Xilinx has been working with Solarflare since 2017 and participated in its latest funding round in 2018. At the Open Compute Summit in San Jose in March, the two companies demonstrated their first joint product – a single-chip, FPGA-based 100G SmartNIC, processing 100 million packets per second, both receiving and transmitting, while consuming less than 75W.

"The Solarflare team has worked very closely with Xilinx on next-generation networking technology and business collaboration since Xilinx became a strategic investor," said Russell Stern, head honcho at Solarflare.

Salil Raje, executive veep and GM for the Data Centre Group at Xilinx, added: "Solarflare has been a pioneer in key areas such as high-speed Ethernet, application acceleration, and NVMe-over-fabrics, which are the critical components needed to build the next generation of SmartNICs for cloud and enterprise technologies."

"Acquiring Solarflare brings Xilinx both market-leading technology and exceptional engineering talent with expertise in networking hardware, software, firmware and drivers.”

The acquisition is expected to close in Xilinx's second quarter of fiscal 2020 – that's in six months' time – subject to regulatory review and customary closing conditions.

Separately, Xilinx has reported fiscal 2019 revenues of $3.06bn, up 24 per cent year-on-year, resulting in net income of $890m.

"We are executing to our strategy and focusing on growth across our portfolio as we continue our transformation to a platform company," said Xilinx president and CEO Victor Peng. ®

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