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Arista Strengthens Its Case for the Network Core

Craig Matsumoto
6/19/2017
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Continuing to expand the market reach of merchant switching chips, Arista today announced upgrades to its 7500R universal spine switches.

The upgrades, based around the new Jericho+ switch chipset from Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), show that Arista Networks Inc. continues to put pressure on OEMs such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR). Moreover, Arista says it's grooming the R-series systems for a broader set of use cases, giving the traditionally data center-focused company more potential ways to sneak its products into service provider core networks.

Broadcom chips really are sophisticated enough to challenge the ASICs that the OEMs prize. Cisco and Juniper have both succumbed, building individual product lines around Broadcom's switching chips. Meanwhile, a handful of high-end competitors to Broadcom are emerging, hoping to put even more pressure on the ASIC model.

Arista's announcements today include:

  • A new and bigger universal spine switch, the 7516, with 16 slots and room for 576 100Gbit/s ports. It's the latest member of the 7500R series, which the company announced last year. (See Arista Introduces 100+ Terabit Cloud Networking Platform.)
  • A new set of line cards, named the R2 series, for those universal spine switches.
  • A new data center interconnect card DCI for 7500R series, with a reach of 5,000km and throughput of 200Gbit/s. Arista had launched such a card at OFC in March but didn't formally announce it; today's card is a revision that adds IEEE-standard MAC security (MACsec).
  • The 7280R2, a fixed-format router with room for 60 100Gbit/s ports.

The upgrades take advantage of the newest generation of Broadcom's Jericho switch fabric, cleverly named Jericho+.

Note that this chipset is different from the Trident 3 family of switching chips that was introduced last week. Jericho+ chips target the network core. The Trident series -- which run in the majority of white box switches -- focuses more on systems such as top-of-rack switches. The Jericho line emphasizes raw scale; these chips are intended for the massive kinds of equipment found in the middle of service provider networks.

Arista's earliest products were data center top-of-rack switches, whereas the R series adds capabilities to serve even in the service provider core. For example, using Jericho+ and an Arista technology called FlexRoute, the 7500R platforms can now hold more than two million routes, roughly three times what you'd need to store an entire Internet route table, says Arthi Ayyangar, Arista's director of product management.

Arista originally targeted the universal spine at data centers while saying it was also suitable for service provider networks, including NFV deployments. With the new hardware, Arista is getting more ambitious, targeting some specific service-provider core markets.

For example, the company has partnered with Affirmed Networks to provide a mobile packet core. Affirmed provides a lot of the service provider-specific pieces, such as the virtual evolved packet core (vEPC) and the associated policy and charging functions.

Another possibility are Internet exchanges, some of which are looking for a technology refresh based on network virtualization. "We do think this will be key for their transformation to a more cloud-like architecture," Ayyangar says.

Arista also sees a future for the R-series in the cable head-end, especially if distributed architectures such as Remote PHY take hold. (See Remote PHY Takes Early DAA Lead.)

Merchant silicon marches on
Arista is enjoying a renaissance of Ethernet chips, as multiple high-end options are coming to market, offering the new wrinkle of programmability. Broadcom announced the Trident 3 last week; Barefoot Networks has begun shipping its Tofino chip; and Cavium Inc. (Nasdaq: CAVM) offers the XP80, which Arista is using in its 7160 Series switches.

On top of all that, newcomer Innovium Inc. is due to begin sampling its Teralynx chips in the third quarter.

For Arista, it's like having candy vendors come knocking.

"If you're making high-performance silicon in Silicon Valley, you're probably walking through our front door to talk to us," Hull says. "We don't use everything, but when there's a differentiator, we will use that."

Merchant chips and white box switches are associated with the hyperscale cloud crowd, but there's interest on the service provider side as well, as shown by the recent AT&T experiment with Barefoot and SnapRoute . (See AT&T Gives White Box Switches a Chance.)

One obvious benefit to using merchant chips is that they get updated more quickly. Arista points to the Juniper Q5, a two-year-old announcement, as the most recently available point of comparison to the Broadcom Jericho+. Broadcom's chip supports twice as many 100Gbit/s ports (10) as Juniper's, at half the power consumption, Arista claims. (See Juniper Doubles Down on Custom Silicon.)

A more recent ASIC contender would be the FP4, announced by Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) last week. But the announcement didn't get into the chip's specifications very deeply, making a comparison difficult, Hull says. (See Nokia Heralds Fastest Network Processor Ever.)

— Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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