Although the Merchant Switch Fabric (MSF) market doesn't seem to have a lot to show for itself, In-Stat/MDR believes that it will steadily garner an increasing share of the CapEx budget pie. The high-tech market research firm predicts that while they won't spread to as many markets as once hoped, MSFs will still grab over a million 10 Gbps equivalent ports by 2008, giving the market a revenue CAGR of 45% from 2003 to 2008.
Now, thanks to reduced R&D budgets, better SerDes technology and specifically, the very flexible Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA) platform, we expect to see MSFs finally come into their own. There has been enormous resonance seen recently around the AdvancedTCA form factor proposed by the PICMG. While, generally, the advancement of the AdvancedTCA is seen as beneficial to all merchant networking silicon, this is especially true for MSFs. This is because, more than any other kind of device in the "networking silicon continuum," MSFs interact most directly with the host chassis of the application in question. As such, if a MSF vendor were able to demonstrate their fabric working in an AdvancedTCA chassis, perhaps as part of a reference design, and an equipment maker is contemplating moving into the PICMG form factor, that equipment maker knows it can also use this particular MSF without re-engineering everything.
Over the next four years, virtually every major MSF vendor will shift to using the AdvancedTCA as the basis for its reference designs. Plus, depending on who the company is, it may also add silicon devices from another maker of networking silicon as a "joint" reference design. Unfortunately, the market for MSFs is not without its oppositions. While the biggest obstacle to broader use of MSFs remains ASIC-based switch fabrics that are the incumbent technology, there is also a renewed threat from GigE, especially in areas of "broadband access" gear. On the bright side, it is expected that the use of Standardized Backplane Interconnects (SBIs) - including ASI, RapidIO, GigE, and InfiniBand - will grow at a phenomenal pace. While a number of MSF vendors are expected to embrace SBIs, ASIC-based fabrics will also shift to SBIs, driving the port count for SBI-based fabrics with a shipment CAGR of 162% over the next five years.