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!

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakthrough Science at the Exascale” at the ACM Europe Conferen Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

U of Illinois, NCSA Launch First US Nanomanufacturing Node

September 14, 2017

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign together with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) have launched the United States's first computational node aimed at the development of nanomanufactu Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

PGI Rolls Out Support for Volta 100 in its 2017 Compilers and Tools Suite

September 14, 2017

PGI today announced a fairly lengthy list of new features to version 17.7 of its 2017 Compilers and Tools. The centerpiece of the additions is support for the Tesla Volta 100 GPU, Nvidia’s newest flagship silicon annou Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

High performance computing (HPC) software is key to harnessing the full power of HPC environments. Development and management tools enable IT departments to streamline installation and maintenance of their systems as well as create, optimize, and run their HPC applications. Read more…

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Breaks Ground for Complex Quantum Chemistry

September 14, 2017

IBM has reported the use of a novel algorithm to simulate BeH2 (beryllium-hydride) on a quantum computer. This is the largest molecule so far simulated on a quantum computer. The technique, which used six qubits of a seven-qubit system, is an important step forward and may suggest an approach to simulating ever larger molecules. Read more…

By John Russell

Cubes, Culture, and a New Challenge: Trish Damkroger Talks about Life at Intel—and Why HPC Matters More Than Ever

September 13, 2017

Trish Damkroger wasn’t looking to change jobs when she attended SC15 in Austin, Texas. Capping a 15-year career within Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, she was acting Associate Director for Computation at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Her mission was to equip the lab’s scientists and research partners with resources that would advance their cutting-edge work... Read more…

By Jan Rowell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab Targets Algorithms, AI Physics

September 7, 2017

Investment continues to flow into artificial intelligence research, especially in key areas such as AI algorithms that promise to move the technology from speci Read more…

By George Leopold

Need Data Science CyberInfrastructure? Check with RENCI’s xDCI Concierge

September 6, 2017

For about a year the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) has been assembling best practices and open source components around data-driven scientific researc Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries: 7nm Chips Coming in 2018, EUV in 2019

June 13, 2017

GlobalFoundries has formally announced that its 7nm technology is ready for customer engagement with product tape outs expected for the first half of 2018. The Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This