400Gbit/s products for the data center made significant strides at both the OFC and OCP show compared to what was shown just a year ago. During the first few months of 2017, 400Gbit/s became a popular topic for data center networking, but many of the demos were limited in nature with test board demos instead of working products. In 2018, that changed significantly, the technology matured and demonstrations of working products were abundant. We saw multiple system and component vendors demonstrating working systems based on 56Gbit/s SERDES and real optics. Actual systems were running and multiple different silicon vendors were demonstrating their products on the show floors. In some cases, hyperscaler demonstrations came from production pods, meaning many of these products had moved well beyond simple proof-of-concept volumes.

The outlook for 2018

Most of the rest of this year will be spent with the supply chain testing its boundaries of capacity and ramping to volumes. I believe many hyperscalers will take a more conservative approach to 400Gbit/s platforms in order to avoid the supply constraints that hampered the early ramp of 100Gbit/s products. For 2018, firming up the supply chains ability to produce 100,000 or more optics will be key and a top priority. Hyperscalers are significantly larger now than when 100Gbit/s starting shipping, in many cases over two times the size. Therefore, when we see hyperscalers begin, we’ll see record-setting shipments.

OFC and OCP both confirmed widespread availability in 2019 with some very early shipments in the second half of this year. This likely means that 400Gbit/s volume shipments beyond the hyperscalers and telcos will not occur until 2020, after the supply chain can deliver large volumes on a consistent basis and hyperscalers no longer consume all available volume. Because of this significant difference in timing, traditional system vendors will likely not announce products until the very end of 2018 or more likely the beginning of 2019 in order to time announcements with broad availably of both silicon and pluggable optics.

Speeding onwards

Just as important as working systems being demonstrated across both show floors was the demonstration of future technologies. Multiple component vendors demonstrated 112Gbit/s SERDES. It’s very significant that, less than two years after 56Gbit/s SERDES were first demoed, the industry is already pushing towards the next speed. The speed and working demonstrations indicate that there will be two waves of 400Gbit/s products and that wave two will hit quickly after wave one. Wave two 400Gbit/s shipments based on 112Gbit/s SERDES will likely hit the market just two short years after wave one. Given the lack of demand beyond the hyperscalers, it likely means that wave one 400Gbit/s technologies will be short lived and that there will be significant vendor battles in both generations for data center networking design wins.

This is a good thing for the market as it’s likely that by this time next year many vendors will be discussing 800Gbit/s products, 25.6Gbit/s fabrics, and new form factors, a nearly 20 times increase in port speed in just over five years.