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Cisco Nexus vs. Arista Networks Low-Latency Switch Challenge

Cisco Systems and Arista Networks are rolling out new low-latency networking switches that are aimed at such industries as high-frequency financial trading and advanced cloud computing, where a premium is put on moving data between servers as fast as possible.

The networking competitors are looking to differentiate themselves in a growing part of the market that is being driven by demands for greater networking performance to handle workloads found in such environments as high-performance computing (HPC) and Big Data Hadoop environments.

With the launch of their Nexus 3548 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch Sept. 19, Cisco officials also are introducing the company's new Algorithm Boost-or Algo Boost-silicon chip that they said will drive down the latency to as little as 190 nanoseconds, and will offer performance advantages over competing switches of as much as 60 percent. Current fast switches in the industry have a latency of more than 380ns, they said.

The financial services market is an important one to Cisco and one that Arista -- which is run by several former Cisco executives, including President and CEO Jayshree Ullal -- also is targeting with its technology. It's also an industry that is known to be an early adopter of new technologies as it looks for products that will help increase the performance and lower the latency in their trading platforms, and those technologies tend to eventually find their way into enterprise infrastructures.

The Algo Boost ASIC technology helps drive not only the low latency in the 1U (1.75-inch) Nexus 3548 switch, but also makes it easier to monitor and manage the switch. The chip gives users greater visibility into how the switch is performing, and offers the Precision Time Protocol feature, which helps firms keep their infrastructures synchronized, bring correlate network events and keep in compliance with regulatory requirements. Active Buffer Monitoring warns users of potential bottlenecks in the networks that could hurt performance, and Intelligent Traffic Mirroring offers filtering and time-stamping of captured traffic to give users an immediate and deeper view into the network.

The Nexus 3548 switch running in the warp mode can hit latency numbers as low as 190ns in environments that require small or medium Layer 2 or 3 scaling. For those with greater scalability needs, the switch can offer latency of 250ns. The switch also includes Cisco's Hitless Network Address Translation (NAT) feature, which enables traders to connect to trading venues without increasing the latency.

While the Nexus 3548 will be the first to offer Algo Boost, the chip technology will find its way into future generations of all Nexus switches. The Nexus 3548 will start showing up in companies' data centers by the end of the year, according to Cisco officials. The Cisco switch will compete with Juniper Networks and with switches from Arista, which on Sept. 19 also rolled out a new offering, the 7150 Series that officials said will offer support for software-defined networking (SDNs) and fit well with infrastructures that include network-wide virtualization environments.

Unlike Cisco's approach with its own Algo Boost ASIC technology, Arista will continue embracing off-the-shelf chips from Intel, which last year bought Ethernet chip maker Fulcrum. Software Defined Networking (SDNs) are aimed at decoupling the data center workloads from the physical network, and moving intelligence in the network-such as directing traffic to minimizing latency to security-from switches and routers to a software-based controller. SDNs reduce the need for expensive, complex switches and routers, and instead let enterprises buy simpler and less expensive networking equipment. In addition, networks become more dynamic and easier to manage so the resources can be migrated easily to whatever application or business service needs them.

Arista has been among the top proponents of software-defined networking (SDN), and company officials said the new 7150 Series switches push that idea forward, with their easy interoperability with SDN controllers. The switches make it easier for businesses to adopt network-wide virtualization, virtual machine mobility and network services, they said. "Arista has combined a flexible forwarding data path with the Arista EOS (Extensible Operating System) to deliver breakthrough latency, power, density and advanced SDN features in a compact 1U form factor" Arista Chairman and Chief Development Officer Andy Bechtolsheim said in a statement. "The Arista 7150 is truly the first next-generation SDN switch for virtualized data centers."

The new switches offer up to 64 wire-speed 1 GbE and 10 GbE ports or sixteen 40 GbE ports, and support VXLAN tunnels at wire speed and the easy movement of workloads between physical and virtual machines. The 40 GbE ports offer latency of 350ns for Layer 2 and 3 forwarding. Features include NAT, IEEE 1588 Precision Time Protocol and congestion management. The wire-speed NAT capabilities reduce the forwarding delay in HPC and financial trading environments by hundreds of microseconds, and latency analyzer features offer such capabilities as congestion monitoring and analysis to monitor application performance.

The Arista 7150 Series switches can be ordered now and will start shipping in the fourth quarter, starting at $12,995.