Cisco looks to one-up Arista, Juniper with Nexus 3548

New switch for market trading brings latency under 200 nanoseconds

Looking to reverse the momentum of rivals Arista and Juniper in high-frequency trading, Cisco this week unveiled a new generation of ultra low-latency Nexus switches based on custom silicon.

The Nexus 3548, which had been expected, offers latencies of 190 nanoseconds for environments with small Layer 2/3 scaling requirements -- which Cisco calls "warp" mode -- and 250 nanoseconds for large-scale needs, Cisco says. These latency figures, which are up to 49% better than a new Arista 7150 announced this week, are due to a new ASIC Cisco developed for the Nexus 3548 that will eventually find its way into other switches in the Nexus line.

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Arista and Juniper have made incursions into the financial trading market with their switches, which prompted Cisco to come out with the Nexus 3000 line, which was based on merchant silicon. The Nexus 3548, however, is a more credible offering and demonstrates that Cisco not only took notice of its slippage in the high-frequency trading market, but is resolved to gaining back momentum.

It took Cisco two years to develop.

"They let Arista catch them by surprise in that market," says Zeus Kerravala, principal at ZK Research. "They responded quickly with a merchant silicon-based product but this allows them to get down to a low latency number that could be market leading. They're taking the high-frequency trading market seriously after falling a little bit behind product-wise."

The Nexus 3548's "Monticello" ASIC features a capability Cisco calls Algorithm Boost, or Algo Boost, which is designed to provide granular visibility into how the switch is performing while in production. This helps financial traders accelerate price discovery, increase order flow liquidity, and better manage regulatory requirements, Cisco says.

Indeed, the 3548 features a number of advancements in visibility, automation, monitoring and time synchronization. The aim is to give traders more proactive management of market volatility, and better control and visibility at peak trading times.

The Nexus 3548 is a 1RU 10G Ethernet switch with 48 SFP+ ports supporting Gigabit Ethernet and 100Mbps Fast Ethernet in addition to 10G. It runs Cisco's NX-OS operating system, features line rate performance for unicast and multicast traffic, has an 18MB packet buffer and a TCAM table supporting 4,000 ACLs.

The 3548 is also able to deliver stock market data to financial trading servers in 50 nanoseconds running a switch port analyzer in "warp" mode, Cisco says. The Nexus 3548 also includes Hitless Network Address Translation, a feature to allow algorithmic traders to connect to any trading venue without a latency penalty.

The switch's Precision Time Protocol helps trading firms keep their infrastructure synchronized so they can correlate network events and better achieve regulatory compliance and digital forensics, Cisco says. Active Buffer Monitoring proactively monitors and alerts users to congestion points; and Intelligent Traffic Mirroring consists of filtering and nanosecond time-stamping of captured traffic, which can help traders gain greater visibility into why gapping, slippage and slow order situations occur.

The Nexus 3548 is orderable now at a base price between $40,000 and $50,000. Cisco officials say they will still offer the Nexus 3000 but that, in many cases, the Nexus 3548 will replace it. They hinted that a 10GBase-T version of the Nexus 3000, targeted at low power requirements, may be in the works.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

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