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Q1 Earnings: Silicom

Silicom had a good quarter.  They beat on revenue (25.3 million) and they guided to a nice revenue increase in the second quarter ($28.5-$29.5 million).

As I wrote about last month, the rise in the stock price has been mostly due to the large switch fabric NIC design win that they announced in March.  On the conference call management provided more color around this win.

The win is for the design of a new, custom 100G switch fabric NIC to be deployed in datacenter racks.  The design presents a number of technical challenges and they are still working through those challenges.   So far Silicom has received an initial $25 million purchase order and a follow-on $8 million order from the customer.  The PO’s are being written even though the card is still in the beta phase and thus still under development.  The PO’s are to insure that Silicom has components on hand and can ramp production quickly to the $30 million plus run rate once a final design is approved.

Interestingly, Shaike Orbach, Silicom’s CEO, said that they were engaged with 10-15 other cloud players for similar designs.  He tempered those remarks by saying that the sales cycle was long (can take as much as two years), that some of the engagements would be for smaller wins (but some could be bigger) and that the architecture of all cloud vendors do not line up as well with Silicom’s technology as this vendor did.

At any rate though, there is a large pipeline of potential deals.  As an aside, if anyone knows who the existing win is with, please email or direct message me.

SD-WAN

There were also comments around SD-WAN.  They have a similar number of SD-WAN prospects that they are talking to (around 10).  These include traditional telecom vendors that have SD-WAN solutions, start-ups, and even service providers.  Talking directly to service providers is a new development as Silicom has traditionally worked through OEM vendor channels.

There was a bit of color around the potential of the SD-WAN opportunity.  Alex Henderson from Needham asked the following question:

If it’s the entire white label box at the edge, I would think that A, that would be a little bit lower margin but B, a lot of revenue associated with that because we’re talking about 1000s of branches and individual deployments here, that seems like a very big ramp when that starts to kick in. Am I thinking about that right? I mean it seems like a very large number?

Orbach’s response was to agree that potential quantities were “very big” and that they had some competitive advantage in that they could provide features not available from others.  I’m still quite excited about the SD-WAN opportunity.

FPGA Opportunity

One comment that came up a few times on the call was the growing importance of their FPGA solutions.  Orbach said that while the switch fabric win is not an FPGA solution, Silicom’s FPGA capabilities were instrumental in getting the win as the customer expects future generations of the product to require FPGA’s.

At the end of the call Orbach gave more color around the importance of FPGA solutions (my underline):

So first of all I would like to tell you that we think that FPGA technology and solutions around FPGA are going to be extremely, extremely important. We’re investing in that. You understand it may take some time but we believe that it will be extremely important. Just like you have said, I mean one of the reasons I mean there are two I would say trends, not trends, but two events and — well even event is not the right word but two things which are happening together which I believe are important to understand, maybe even three. So one is again the cloud, I mean the cloud, I think that cloud vendors do understand today and that’s by the way why we have been able to success even with that customer that in order for their cloud to be effective, in order to cut down their expenses they need to have several ways or to do offloading within the cloud. Our FPGAs seem to be recognized now almost by everyone as the right technology for the purpose of doing this kind of offloading. I think that although — when I’m saying cloud by the way I mean the whole package, I mean it’s cloud and NFV, SD-WAN virtualization, all that together. So when build systems using these technologies you would need to do offload, the right technology to do offload is FPGA.

Orbach also hinted at collaboration with Intel (and their Altera FPGA designs) and referred to a MOU around FPGA development that he said was important.

I did a little bit more research into FPGA development and this looks like an area that is beginning to hit its stride with more and more use cases.  FPGA designs offer more flexibility, less up front cost and are preferable to vendors that either don’t want to commit a large spend to a custom ASIC design or do not have funds to commit to such a closed end design.  It sounds like the performance gap with ASICs, which has largely been what has limited their use, has closed considerably over the last few years.

In particular I found one white-paper by Altera/Intel that was particularly insightful.  The paper describes 3 evolving use cases for FPGA’s that all seem very closely aligned with Silicom’s strengths.  They are:

  1. Datacenters
  2. 400G cards
  3. Wireless Remote Radio Units

The paper basically suggests that the requirements of the next-gen designs will fit much better with FPGA solutions than ASIC solutions.

While Orbach and the above paper suggest that big FPGA wins are still some time in the future, it really starts to clarify the runway of opportunities for Silicom for me.  I think this could be a multi-year run for the stock as the company seems very well positioned for trends to white-box hardware, offload functionality to secondary NIC cards, and utilize more FPGA based solutions.  I didn’t add to my position on the results, but if there was enough of a correction I certainly would.

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