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Broadcom Samples Trident 4 Switch

June 25, 2019

Author: Bob Wheeler

Like the Queen song, customers demand “I want it all, and I want it now.” Aided by 7nm technology, Broadcom comes close to delivering on this request with Trident 4. The new switch chip offers programmability combined with 400Gbps Ethernet support and up to 12.8Tbps of bandwidth, matching the fastest available competitors and quadrupling the throughput of the two-year-old Trident 3. Its announcement also marks the debut of Broadcom’s Network Programming Language (NPL), which enables compiler-based programming of packet-processing pipelines across multiple switch families.

Externally, Trident 4 is virtually identical to the shipping 12.8Tbps Tomahawk 3, handling up to 32x400GbE and 128x100GbE ports using 256x56Gbps PAM4 serdes. In fact, aside from adjustments to supply voltages, the two chips are pin compatible. With competitors employing expensive multichip modules, Trident 4 is noteworthy as a monolithic 7nm die. The advanced node helps Broadcom claim industry-leading packet-buffer and database sizes even while offering programmability. The initial family includes 12.8Tbps (BCM56880) and 8.0Tbps (BCM56883) variants, and the company plans later members that scale down to 2.0Tbps.

Whereas Tomahawk 3 targets hyperscale data centers, Trident 4 addresses a broader application range in enterprise data-center and campus networks. It competes with OEM-internal ASICs as well as merchant 12.8Tbps switch chips from Barefoot Networks, Innovium, and Marvell. Among those competitors, Barefoot’s Tofino 2 has the greatest programmability and a proven programming model. By comparison, Trident 4 introduces a new language and compiler, steepening the customer’s learning curve. For customers that don’t need programmability, however, Broadcom offers backward compatibility with existing APIs, simplifying adoption of its off-the-shelf feature set.

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