Intel Takes Aim at Switch Chip Business with Fulcrum Deal

By Michael Feldman

July 20, 2011

Intel has signed a definitive agreement to acquire switch silicon maker Fulcrum Microsystems. The deal adds Ethernet switch chips to Intel’s growing portfolio of networking products. The agreement, whose terms remain under wraps, was announced on Tuesday.

Founded in 2000, Fulcrum is a privately-owned company that has been singularly focused on creating merchant silicon for high performance, lossless Ethernet networks. The company’s two main product lines are its FocalPoint Ethernet chip family for network processing on switches and routers and its PivotPoint interconnect chip for packet processing on the line card. The foundational technology was developed at Caltech in the 1990s.

The emphasis on performance, and especially low latency, attracted performance-minded Ethernet switch vendors like Arista Networks and BLADE Network Technologies (now under IBM ownership). And until Mellanox scooped up Voltaire, the latter’s Ethernet switches employed Fulcrum silicon as well. HPC storage maker Panasas also found a use for Fulcrum hardware in its ActiveStor product line. All told, Fulcrum claims its switch chips are used across 250 customer designs.

With cut-through latencies in the 200-300ns range and per-port power draw under one watt, Fulcrum’s FocalPoint chip is just slightly less impressive than the latest InfiniBand hardware and on par with any competing Ethernet solution. For example, Mellanox claims its ambidextrous SwitchX silicon will deliver 160ns latency and about 2 watts per port for FDR (56 Gbps) InfiniBand, while providing 230ns latency and 0.6 watts when it switches to 10GbE.

The Fulcrum designs dovetail nicely with vendors who want to deliver cutting-edge 10GbE and 40GbE switching for high performance computing, cloud infrastructure, and other latency-sensitive datacenter applications. But the larger trend, and the one that Intel is likely to be most interested in long-term, is the commoditization of network switching.

Up until fairly recently, the accepted way to build switches was with custom silicon, often produced in-house by the switch manufacturers. With the appearance of merchant silicon vendors like Broadcom, Marvell and Fulcrum, that model is changing, threatening vendors like Cisco, which has long relied on its own chipsets. Just this week, it was reported that Lazard Capital analyst Daniel Amir sees Cisco beginning to transition to merchant silicon solutions.

That suggests that network switching is undergoing the same sort of transition that occurred in the server arena over the last 20 years, as most of the market moved from custom-build CPUs like Sparc and Power to x86. Over the last couple of years, Intel has seen its Xeon CPUs start to dominate in storage boxes and expects the same to happen in switches, replacing MIPS, Power CPUs and custom-built processors.

All of this reflects a larger strategy at Intel to establish a wider footprint in the datacenter. Since the chipmaker morphed its server division into the Data Center Group a couple years ago, the company has broadened its focus to encompass network and storage gear. The move parallels the shift of some of Intel’s biggest enterprise customers, like IBM, HP, and Cisco, to package up “converged infrastructure” solutions, rather than just sell servers, storage and networking in a piecemeal fashion.

And although Intel has been selling Ethernet adapter chips and NICs on the host side for awhile, the Fulcrum addition will further their expansion on switch side, says Steve Schultz, director of marketing in Intel’s LAN Access Division. “More and more we’re seeing a lot of the switching and routing gear transitioning to Intel-based processors,” he told HPCwire. “This is very complementary to that.”

For Fulcrum customers, this is bound to be good news. Even though the company has been racking up impressive revenue numbers of late, expanding from $1.1 million in sales in 2006 to $6.4 million in 2009, it remains a small business with about a $100 million worth of VC money to answer to. Its five principal investors, New Enterprise Associates, Infinity Capital, Granite Ventures, Palomar Ventures and Worldview Technology Partners, will presumably all get their just desserts once the Intel deal closes.

In addition, being able to draw on Intel’s considerable resources would put Fulcrum’s product set on a much more stable foundation. And although Intel has not talked about moving the network chips into its own fabs — the switch chips are currently manufactured by TSMC — the chipmaker will undoubtedly want to leverage its world-class manufacturing technology.

Schultz says the existing Fulcrum team will remain intact and the business will be folded into the LAN Access Division, which itself is run out of the Data Center Group. The acquisition is subject to shareholder and regulatory approval, but according to Schultz no glitches are foreseen. The deal is expected to close in 30 to 35 days.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Intel Reorgs HPC Group, Creates Two ‘Super Compute’ Groups

October 15, 2021

Following on changes made in June that moved Intel’s HPC unit out of the Data Platform Group and into the newly created Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics (AXG) business unit, led by Raja Koduri, Intel is making further updates to the HPC group and announcing... Read more…

Royalty-free stock illustration ID: 1938746143

MosaicML, Led by Naveen Rao, Comes Out of Stealth Aiming to Ease Model Training

October 15, 2021

With more and more enterprises turning to AI for a myriad of tasks, companies quickly find out that training AI models is expensive, difficult and time-consuming. Finding a new approach to deal with those cascading challenges is the aim of a new startup, MosaicML, that just came out of stealth... Read more…

NSF Awards $11M to SDSC, MIT and Univ. of Oregon to Secure the Internet

October 14, 2021

From a security standpoint, the internet is a problem. The infrastructure developed decades ago has cracked, leaked and been patched up innumerable times, leaving vulnerabilities that are difficult to address due to cost Read more…

SC21 Announces Science and Beyond Plenary: the Intersection of Ethics and HPC

October 13, 2021

The Intersection of Ethics and HPC will be the guiding topic of SC21's Science & Beyond plenary, inspired by the event tagline of the same name. The evening event will be moderated by Daniel Reed with panelists Crist Read more…

Quantum Workforce – NSTC Report Highlights Need for International Talent

October 13, 2021

Attracting and training the needed quantum workforce to fuel the ongoing quantum information sciences (QIS) revolution is a hot topic these days. Last week, the U.S. National Science and Technology Council issued a report – The Role of International Talent in Quantum Information Science... Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Cost optimizing Ansys LS-Dyna on AWS

Organizations migrate their high performance computing (HPC) workloads from on-premises infrastructure to Amazon Web Services (AWS) for advantages such as high availability, elastic capacity, latest processors, storage, and networking technologies; Read more…

Eni Returns to HPE for ‘HPC4’ Refresh via GreenLake

October 13, 2021

Italian energy company Eni is upgrading its HPC4 system with new gear from HPE that will be installed in Eni’s Green Data Center in Ferrera Erbognone (a province in Pavia, Italy), and delivered “as-a-service” via H Read more…

Intel Reorgs HPC Group, Creates Two ‘Super Compute’ Groups

October 15, 2021

Following on changes made in June that moved Intel’s HPC unit out of the Data Platform Group and into the newly created Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics (AXG) business unit, led by Raja Koduri, Intel is making further updates to the HPC group and announcing... Read more…

Royalty-free stock illustration ID: 1938746143

MosaicML, Led by Naveen Rao, Comes Out of Stealth Aiming to Ease Model Training

October 15, 2021

With more and more enterprises turning to AI for a myriad of tasks, companies quickly find out that training AI models is expensive, difficult and time-consuming. Finding a new approach to deal with those cascading challenges is the aim of a new startup, MosaicML, that just came out of stealth... Read more…

Quantum Workforce – NSTC Report Highlights Need for International Talent

October 13, 2021

Attracting and training the needed quantum workforce to fuel the ongoing quantum information sciences (QIS) revolution is a hot topic these days. Last week, the U.S. National Science and Technology Council issued a report – The Role of International Talent in Quantum Information Science... Read more…

Eni Returns to HPE for ‘HPC4’ Refresh via GreenLake

October 13, 2021

Italian energy company Eni is upgrading its HPC4 system with new gear from HPE that will be installed in Eni’s Green Data Center in Ferrera Erbognone (a provi Read more…

The Blueprint for the National Strategic Computing Reserve

October 12, 2021

Over the last year, the HPC community has been buzzing with the possibility of a National Strategic Computing Reserve (NSCR). An in-utero brainchild of the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium, an NSCR would serve as a Merchant Marine for urgent computing... Read more…

UCLA Researchers Report Largest Chiplet Design and Early Prototyping

October 12, 2021

What’s the best path forward for large-scale chip/system integration? Good question. Cerebras has set a high bar with its wafer scale engine 2 (WSE-2); it has 2.6 trillion transistors, including 850,000 cores, and was fabricated using TSMC’s 7nm process on a roughly 8” x 8” silicon footprint. Read more…

What’s Next for EuroHPC: an Interview with EuroHPC Exec. Dir. Anders Dam Jensen

October 7, 2021

One year after taking the post as executive director of the EuroHPC JU, Anders Dam Jensen reviews the project's accomplishments and details what's ahead as EuroHPC's operating period has now been extended out to the year 2027. Read more…

University of Bath Unveils Janus, an Azure-Based Cloud HPC Environment

October 6, 2021

The University of Bath is upgrading its HPC infrastructure, which it says “supports a growing and wide range of research activities across the University.” Read more…

Ahead of ‘Dojo,’ Tesla Reveals Its Massive Precursor Supercomputer

June 22, 2021

In spring 2019, Tesla made cryptic reference to a project called Dojo, a “super-powerful training computer” for video data processing. Then, in summer 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Tesla is developing a [neural network] training computer... Read more…

Enter Dojo: Tesla Reveals Design for Modular Supercomputer & D1 Chip

August 20, 2021

Two months ago, Tesla revealed a massive GPU cluster that it said was “roughly the number five supercomputer in the world,” and which was just a precursor to Tesla’s real supercomputing moonshot: the long-rumored, little-detailed Dojo system. Read more…

Esperanto, Silicon in Hand, Champions the Efficiency of Its 1,092-Core RISC-V Chip

August 27, 2021

Esperanto Technologies made waves last December when it announced ET-SoC-1, a new RISC-V-based chip aimed at machine learning that packed nearly 1,100 cores onto a package small enough to fit six times over on a single PCIe card. Now, Esperanto is back, silicon in-hand and taking aim... Read more…

CentOS Replacement Rocky Linux Is Now in GA and Under Independent Control

June 21, 2021

The Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation (RESF) is announcing the general availability of Rocky Linux, release 8.4, designed as a drop-in replacement for the soon-to-be discontinued CentOS. The GA release is launching six-and-a-half months... Read more…

US Closes in on Exascale: Frontier Installation Is Underway

September 29, 2021

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, held by Zoom this week (Sept. 29-30), it was revealed that the Frontier supercomputer is currently being installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The staff at the Oak Ridge Leadership... Read more…

Intel Completes LLVM Adoption; Will End Updates to Classic C/C++ Compilers in Future

August 10, 2021

Intel reported in a blog this week that its adoption of the open source LLVM architecture for Intel’s C/C++ compiler is complete. The transition is part of In Read more…

Hot Chips: Here Come the DPUs and IPUs from Arm, Nvidia and Intel

August 25, 2021

The emergence of data processing units (DPU) and infrastructure processing units (IPU) as potentially important pieces in cloud and datacenter architectures was Read more…

AMD-Xilinx Deal Gains UK, EU Approvals — China’s Decision Still Pending

July 1, 2021

AMD’s planned acquisition of FPGA maker Xilinx is now in the hands of Chinese regulators after needed antitrust approvals for the $35 billion deal were receiv Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

HPE Wins $2B GreenLake HPC-as-a-Service Deal with NSA

September 1, 2021

In the heated, oft-contentious, government IT space, HPE has won a massive $2 billion contract to provide HPC and AI services to the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA). Following on the heels of the now-canceled $10 billion JEDI contract (reissued as JWCC) and a $10 billion... Read more…

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

Quantum Roundup: IBM, Rigetti, Phasecraft, Oxford QC, China, and More

July 13, 2021

IBM yesterday announced a proof for a quantum ML algorithm. A week ago, it unveiled a new topology for its quantum processors. Last Friday, the Technical Univer Read more…

The Latest MLPerf Inference Results: Nvidia GPUs Hold Sway but Here Come CPUs and Intel

September 22, 2021

The latest round of MLPerf inference benchmark (v 1.1) results was released today and Nvidia again dominated, sweeping the top spots in the closed (apples-to-ap Read more…

Frontier to Meet 20MW Exascale Power Target Set by DARPA in 2008

July 14, 2021

After more than a decade of planning, the United States’ first exascale computer, Frontier, is set to arrive at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) later this year. Crossing this “1,000x” horizon required overcoming four major challenges: power demand, reliability, extreme parallelism and data movement. Read more…

Intel Unveils New Node Names; Sapphire Rapids Is Now an ‘Intel 7’ CPU

July 27, 2021

What's a preeminent chip company to do when its process node technology lags the competition by (roughly) one generation, but outmoded naming conventions make i Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire