Silicon powers democratized networking

From home Wi-Fi, to hyperscaler, the ability to access information instantly and to interact immediately with people on the other side of the world is remarkable. Life as we know it today would be very different without high-speed network connectivity. Across the many nodes and links of the connectivity fabric, there’s a good chance a Broadcom chip is processing the data stream that delivers these amazing capabilities.

However, like modern plumbing, the silicon on which the networks depend is unseen and often taken for granted.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak at the Six Five Summit regarding the “Democratizing of Networks” and how that delivers more data to more people than ever, with lower cost, higher bandwidth, and greater sustainability.

It’s in the chips

Just as with plumbing, when everything in the network is working fine, you don’t even think about it. It’s only when things start to clog up that you realize it makes your day-to-day life possible. When you provide the network plumbing, as we do, there’s a lot of responsibility. We must consistently keep up with – and even get ahead of – the amount of bandwidth that’s needed.

Every 18 to 24 months, we have been doubling the bandwidth of our networking chips. For example, take our latest chip, Tomahawk 5, with 60 billion transistors. About 10 years ago an equivalent solution would have cost a million dollars and have consumed 20,000 watts of power. Today, you can buy an equally powerful network device for about $10,000, and it likely consumes less than 500 watts of power. The processing power is extraordinary, but so is the efficiency. One Tomahawk 5 chip replaces many racks of big Ethernet switches, yielding savings in electricity costs alone of $150,000 per year.

At the core of an ecosystem

Even so, today’s modern networks need more than a networking chip. They require an ecosystem of hardware and software providers. We at Broadcom are good at building chips; someone else is very good at building physical hardware around the chips; and someone else is good at building the software. This is democratized networking. It completely changes the economics of how networks are built and reduces the barriers for new players to come into the market, thereby cutting costs and enabling innovation to thrive.

Always needed: more bandwidth

When we were building a 50 Terabit chip, people would ask, “Why would anybody need a 50 Terabit chip for bandwidth?” But lo and behold, late last year and early this year, we began to hear about things like generative AI and the impact that machine learning is going to have on society.

Many years ago, you probably didn’t expect to see the cloud, search, and videos we have today. But they did happen, and they needed networking. Now AI is taking off, and we believe in the future something else will come along. Our goal is to keep building the next generation of chips relentlessly.

More powerful chips increase sustainability

Every time we double the bandwidth (performance) of one of these chips, we have enough performance to replace six of the previous generations of chips. That doesn’t seem intuitive, but that’s the way networks are built. For example, if a previous generation of our chip consumed 400 watts of power and you would need six of those, that would be 2,400 watts of power. But let’s say the new chip consumes 500 watts of power. That’s 20% more than one chip, but it replaces six of those previous chips. So, with every generation that we double the bandwidth, we are generally reducing the power per bandwidth by at least 75%. That makes high bandwidth networks much more affordable, another attribute of democratized networking.

And by using less power, those chips contribute to sustainability. In a related endeavor, we are working in the field of silicon photonics to implement optics in silicon, which reduces power utilization substantially and allows us to build very large networks as sustainably as they can be built.

Whether for powerful switches or home Wi-Fi routers, we make chips that are useful for exactly what they are intended. The result is a democratized network that delivers more data to more people than ever, with lower cost, higher bandwidth, and greater sustainability.

To learn more, visit Broadcom.

About Ram Velaga

Broadcom Software

Ram Velaga is Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Core Switching Group at Broadcom, responsible for the company’s extensive Ethernet switch portfolio serving broad markets including the service provider, data center and enterprise segments.