Datacenter Networks

July 7, 2023
Angela Morales

This week, the SmartNIC Summi takes place in San Jose, California. It brings together industry experts, users and vendors of SmartNICs, Data Processing Units (DPUs) and Infrastructure Processing Units (IPUs). The common thread among these technologies is that they allow us to move data processing tasks into the NIC in addition to basic network functions. But why are network developers doing this in the first place? And why are they doing it now?

We'll cover the SmartNIC / DPU / IPU topic in several articles over the next few weeks, and we'll start by identifying one of the reasons for the growing interest in this technology by taking a closer look at the Ethernet market. A good place to start is with switches and routers, which are fundamental components in datacenter, enterprise and edge networks, as they give us insight into how the rest of the network infrastructure is evolving.

High-speed Ethernet

The Next Platform runs an excellent analysis and discussion of the Ethernet switch and router market ( based on quarterly updated data and statements from IDC.

According to The Next Platform, Ethernet switch revenue grew 22% to $10.3 billion in Q4 2022. Router revenue remains stable at $4.6 billion. The 22% growth in switch sales represents a significant jump from a growth rate of 11.8% in Q4 2021 (

The key finding of the study is an estimate of the Ethernet switch market by port speed for Q4 2022, with the number of 100G network ports shipped increasing 20% to 11.3 million in Q4 2022. The number of 200G / 400G ports shipped increased 403% to 2.6 million ports. The total capacity (number of ports times port speed) shipped in Q4 2022 is 2,894.9 exabits per second, with about 66% of that coming from 100G/200G/400G ports. These current numbers compared to previous years confirm the trend that bandwidth leaps seem to be getting easier and that there is about a two-year cadence between port speed upgrades (from 100G to 200G to 400G).

Switches and routers weave together datacenter, enterprise and edge networks. If we make the fair assumption that the majority of servers in these networks are connected to switches, server network ports are following the same trend. Since a significant portion of total network capacity is already covered by 100G+ ports, this is where SmartNIC comes into play. Back in 2020, Scott Schweitzer, technology evangelist at Xilinx at that time, estimated that datacenter servers often spend 30% of their CPU cycles managing networking (, which equates to one new server for nearly every three in production. Meanwhile, this percentage has likely increased and will continue to increase as network connections become faster and faster. Service providers are under increasing pressure to get back these cycles for application workloads rather than infrastructure task.

In the next article in this series, we'll take a closer look at the datacenter infrastructure tasks and the offload capabilities of today's SmartNICs, DPUs and IPUs.


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