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Cisco Preps 'Arista Killer'

Craig Matsumoto
8/28/2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- VMworld -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is preparing to release a top-of-rack switch that it's been touting as an Arista Networks Inc. killer, Light Reading has learned.

The Nexus 3500, which sources say was originally designed by the team now running Insieme Networks Inc. , is reportedly a low-latency switch built for cloud networks where virtual machines get moved around a lot. Both are factors that Arista boasts about with its own switches.

In fact, Arista is running a demo here showing off its virtual-machine capabilities. It was the subject of an Arista press release Friday.

The Nexus 3500 reportedly will be based on a Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) Ethernet switching chip -- the Trident II that was announced Monday, according to one source. But sources say it's also going to include an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) for Layer 3 multicast -- which is necessary for a virtual machine, after it's been moved, to communicate with the rest of the network.

That ASIC was designed by the team at Insieme, Cisco's spin-in startup run by the same team that did Cisco's Nuovo and Andiamo spin-ins, sources agree. The team has been moved off that product and onto the next big thing -- possibly a super-dense 100Gbit/s switch, as Light Reading reported Friday. (See Cisco's Insieme Building Massively Scalable Switch.)

Let's get virtual
That Layer 3 ASIC would be useful for a technology called virtual extensible LAN (VXLAN), developed by VMware and partners. VXLAN moves virtual machines via a Layer 3 tunnel (technically, it encapsulates the packets so that the Layer 3 network can move them around). Normal virtual-machine movement happens at Layer 2, but VXLAN is more scalable and can cross network boundaries.

VXLAN, which VMware just started shipping, is one of a few technologies being proposed for this task. Microsoft has its own version, called NVGRE. (See VMware Looks Into the Network.)

Arista's VMworld demo shows VXLAN hardware virtual endpoints running inside a switch, one that's part of the 7000 family but hasn't yet been announced, says Doug Gourlay, Arista's VP of marketing.

The technologies are relatively new, so Arista is trying to grab a leader's position in supporting them. That's the purpose of this week's demo, which shows interoperability with some big-name companies including F5 Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIV), Palo Alto Networks Inc. and the Isilon branch of EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC).

As is often the case, interoperability is important for smaller players like Arista, because they're up against all-in-one offerings from the bigger names, such as Cisco and VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW).

"This has become a game of stacks. Cisco's got a stack. VMware's got a stack. Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) has a stack. This is how Arista can counter that," says Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research . It's aligning itself with the right companies -- F5, Palo Alto. That's a Who's Who."

Lowering latency
But getting back to that Nexus thing. The 3000 line is the variety of Nexus that's built specifically for low latency, targeting markets such as financial trading. It's also one of Cisco's first product lines to dabble in the OpenFlow protocol, at least according to one engineer last fall. (See Cisco Will Support OpenFlow.)

Kerravala wouldn't discuss the 3500 specifically, but he did think that an ASIC-based Nexus 3000 would be a logical next step. Cisco, which tends to be ASIC-happy, has been using merchant Ethernet chips in the Nexus 3000 series.

Network World uncovered some more details about the 3500 earlier in August, finding that the switch will have low enough latency to rival InfiniBand gear. Low latency has made InfiniBand, rather than Ethernet, a favored data-center fabric protocol.

Gourlay declined to comment on the existence of a potential Arista killer at Cisco. A Cisco spokeswoman declined comment as well.

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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