Chipmaker improves its PHY

As rack densities increase, server and switch makers are under pressure to do something to control space and heat.

Chipmaker Solarflare Communications believes it has an answer with a smaller, more energy-efficient 10GBASE-T PHY chip for server adaptor and Ethernet controller manufacturers.

The Irvine, Calif., company’s 10Xxpress SFT9001 PHY, which will be ready for sampling next month, consumes less than 6 watts maximum of power on a 100 meter cable reach and 5 watts nominal, the company said Monday. By comparison, the previous version swallowed 11 watts of power maximum and 10 watts nominal.

Bruce Tolley, Solarflare’s vice-president of communications, said that as a result controller and server makers can accommodate the higher densities being demanded today in 10Gigabit servers, switches and storage arrays.

The SFT9001 PHY also runs on three speeds – 10Gigabit, 1000 BaseT and 100MB Fast Ethernet. Tolley also said the design lets customers can upgrade their networks at either end of their lines to 10GbEthernet as budgets allow.

“This enables our customers to support legacy equipment,” he said.

“A switch customer could lay down 10BaseT in their switches and roll that out, and the servers at the other end could stay at the lower 1000BaseT. The technology on the switch would auto-negotiate down to the lowest speed.

“This is investment protection,” he said.

The SFT 9001PHY supports Categories 5, 5e, 6, 6A and 7 cable. It also supports wake-up-LAN as well as sleep mode. A PHY connects a link layer device to optical fibre or copper cable. It typically includes a PCS (Physical Coding Sublayer) and a PMD (Physical Medium Dependant) layer. The PCS encodes and decodes the data that is transmitted and received.

Tolley said production of the chip is expected “before the end of the year.”

Solarflare’s chips are used by manufacturers such SMC Networks. The new PHY design comes weeks after Solarflare announced it has tweaked its controller chip to cut power to 2.2 watts yet increase performance by 25 per cent.

The Solarstorm SFC4000 vNIC controller can push 10Gbps bidirectional throughput with 1,500 byte maxium transport units (MTUs), he said. The controller, which is now being sampled to Tier 1 server manufacturers, has improved support for Receive Side Scaling (RSS), which manages TCP flows across multiple cores in a processor, and improved virtualization acceleration with line-rate performance through driver improvements.

Solarflare’s PHY competitors include Marvell and Broadcom. Controller manufacturers include Intel and Broadcom.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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