AI backend networks become a growth engine in the data center switch market

Jan. 16, 2024
Dell’Oro Group said that these networks will require new infrastructure buildout support.

The rise in AI is influencing data center switching. According to the Dell’Oro Group, spending on switches deployed in AI back-end networks is forecast to expand the data center switch market by 50 percent.

While current data center switches market spending is for front-end networks primarily connecting general-purpose servers, AI workloads will require a new back-end infrastructure buildout. 

 

“Generative AI applications usher in a new era in the age of AI, standing out for the sheer number of parameters they have to deal with,” said Sameh Boujelbene, VP at Dell’Oro Group. “Several large AI applications currently handle trillions of parameters, with this count increasing tenfold annually.” 

She added that “this rapid growth necessitates the deployment of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of accelerated nodes” and “connecting these accelerated nodes in large clusters requires a data center-scale fabric, known as the AI back-end network, which differs from the traditional front-end network used mostly to connect general-purpose servers.” 

Scaling speeds 

AI networks will accelerate the transition to higher speeds. Growing bandwidth requirements will drive the need for optical 800G transceivers inside data centers.

In its 2022 technology roadmap, the Ethernet Alliance expects speeds of 800 Gbps and 1.6 Tbps to become an IEEE standard between 2023 and 2025.

Dell’Oro said 800 Gbps will comprise most AI back-end network ports by 2025. This will be within two years of the latest 800 Gbps product introduction.

InfiniBand, Ethernet competition heating up

Competition between InfiniBand and Ethernet is intensifying as manufacturers vie for market share in AI back-end networks. 

When it developed its forecast, Dell’Oro looked at the AI back-end network buildouts by the major cloud service providers (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Meta, Alibaba, Tencent, ByteDance, Baidu, and others). It also looked at considerations driving their choices of the back-end fabric.

Ethernet and InfiniBand have various strengths. 

InfiniBand currently offers speeds up to 200 Gbps and beyond, which benefits AI workloads involving massive data transfers. However, modern Ethernet technologies such as 800 Gbps interfaces, which InfiniBand will only support for up to two years, provide substantial bandwidth, meeting the requirements of most AI applications. 

While InfiniBand is expected to maintain its lead, Dell’Oro forecasts Ethernet to make substantial gains, such as 20 revenue-share points by 2027. 

“One could argue that Ethernet is a one-speed generation ahead of InfiniBand,"  Boujelbene said. "Network speed, however, is not the only factor. Congestion control and adaptive routing mechanisms are also important.”

 

 

 

While most of the market demand will come from Tier 1 Cloud Service Providers, Tier 2/3 and large enterprises are forecast to make significant gains, approaching $10 billion over the next five years. The research group said the latter group will favor Ethernet.

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About the Author

Sean Buckley

Sean is responsible for establishing and executing the editorial strategies of Lightwave and Broadband Technology Report across their websites, email newsletters, events, and other information products.

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