Cisco readying a new Nexus switch

Nexus 3500 will feature ultra low latency, target Infiniband

Cisco has another Nexus Ethernet data center switch in the works, this one with ultra-low latency and a more formidable rival to Infiniband.

Cisco has another Nexus Ethernet data center switch in the works, this one with ultra-low latency and a more formidable rival to InfiniBand.

Details on the Nexus 3500 are unavailable. Cisco wouldn't discuss it when asked about an online ad seeking a software engineer for it.

"This is to be announced later," a Cisco spokesperson emailed. "No details to share yet."

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Sources, however, say the Nexus 3500 will feature 250 nanosecond port-to-port latency and integrated network address translation. They say it will give InfiniBand a run for the money, especially when combined with a new NIC from Cisco called usNIC.

"If this product does come out with latency as stated, it will dominate the silicon industry slamming down on Broadcom and more importantly Fulcrum," the source says. "But also compete with Mellanox and close the gap with InfiniBand. Cisco will be untouchable in ultra low latency switching."

RedHat has apparently run tests of usNIC with its MRG-M high performance computing software. Slides 16-18 of this presentation appear to show performance improvements of MRG-M when running usNIC vs. InfiniBand.

Red Hat was not immediately available for comment. But our source said it, along with the Nexus 3500, could be a viable alternative to InfiniBand.

"That, combined with this new Nexus 3500 having 250ns latency would be a compelling solution against InfiniBand," the source said. "If Cisco launches Nexus 3500 in the next few months and combines usNIC in the launch it will finally be the first Ethernet solution that can compete against [InfiniBand] ... [and] shows Cisco intent to kill InfiniBand with Ethernet." 

Fat chance, says Mellanox.

"First, it's great to see that Cisco is working to build a solution to compete with InfiniBand," says Mellanox Vice President of Market Development Gilad Shainer. "We see this as yet another testament to the increased InfiniBand market share over Ethernet and Cisco solutions.

"Ethernet does not provide better performance, scalability and or cost compared to InfiniBand. In particular to Cisco, the InfiniBand cost advantage is even bigger. Furthermore, the use of InfiniHost III adapter (on slide 17 of the deck you've linked to below) was released in 2005 and is not representative of current InfiniBand performance.

"I'd also like to note that latency is not the entire story here," Shainer continues. "The value of InfiniBand is also in its bandwidth, RDMA, lowest CPU overhead and the unlimited scalability. Ethernet, nor Cisco, can build an infrastructure that is as cost-effective and scalable. This is why we're seeing many large data centers moving to InfiniBand."

Cisco currently offers the Nexus 3000 line for low-latency, top-of-rack switching targeted at high-frequency financial trading, as well as the Nexus 7000, 5000 and 2000 lines for data center fabric switching.

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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