Arista's On-Board Optics Boost 100G Density

Who needs those pesky CFP-sized transceivers, anyway?

Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

May 1, 2013

3 Min Read
Arista's On-Board Optics Boost 100G Density

The newest Arista Networks Inc. router packs what appears to be the industry's densest 100Gbit/s so far, a feat accomplished by putting the optics directly onto the boards.

The 7500E, announced Wednesday morning, puts 12 100Gbit/s ports on each card, for a total of 96 per chassis.

Silicon photonics aren't involved. Arista glommed vertical-cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs) directly onto the board, obviating the need for transceiver modules. End users plug fibers directly into the box without having to buy optics.

Remember that Arista founder Andy Bechtolsheim helped spread silicon photonics fever a couple of months ago during Facebook's Open Compute Summit. He shared the stage with Intel Corp. and advocated the wonders of the technology.

But silicon photonics is "not ready for prime time," so the technology didn't make the cut for the 7500E, says Martin Hull, an Arista senior product manager.

Still, by packing a transceiver's guts directly onto line cards, Arista gained a lot in density. Using CFP transceivers, it's possible to get four 100Gbit/s interfaces onto a card. The newer CFP2s, which have barely begun shipping, can fit eight. So, jumping to 12 interfaces per card is pretty significant.

Each of Arista's 100Gbit/s ports is actually 10 lanes of 12Gbit/s apiece, so we're not talking about coherent transmission for long distances. It's a data-center switch, using SR-10 optical standards for a reach of 150 meters. But the setup does let operators change the port speed in software, dividing it into groups of 10Gbit/s or 40Gbit/s connections as necessary.

Optics represent a relatively high percentage of a switch or router's cost; Arista estimates it at 20 to 25 percent. A 10Gbit/s SFP module would cost $450, by Arista's estimate.

Putting the VCSELs onto the board incurs a cost, too, but Arista is claiming its interfaces are a clearly cheaper alternative.

According to Anshul Sadana, Arista's senior vice president of customer engineering, a typical switch, when fully populated with 100Gbit/s interfaces, will cost $35,000 to $50,000 per 100Gbit/s port -- that is, dividing the cost of the entire switch by the number of ports. A fully loaded Arista 7500E would come out to $10,000 per 100Gbit/s port.

Arista claims to have kept the power nearly constant as well. That is, the Arista 7500 uses about 10 W per 10Gbit/s port, while the 7500E, which can support three times as many ports, uses 4 W per 10Gbit/s port.

Lower price-per-port was the trick that made the Catalyst 6500, Cisco Systems Inc.'s flagship switch, thrive after its release in 2003, writes ISI Group Inc. analyst Brian Marshall in a note published Wednesday. An Arista fan for some time, Marshall sees the 7500E having a similar potential, possibly helping Arista float an IPO "in the next four to six quarters."

Then again, Cisco has its own optical projects in the works. In addition to producing the CPAK, its own CFP2-like transceiver, Cisco is applying silicon photonics to chip interconnects. It's not a stretch to think an on-board transceiver could be in Cisco's grasp as well. (See Cisco Goes Inside With Silicon Photonics.)

The 7500E is the same chassis as the Arista 7500 switch; the difference is in the cards, including a new fabric card that triples the fabric bandwidth, to a theoretical 30Tbit/s.

The 7500E is in general availability, with some customers already running it in production environments, Arista says.

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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