The rise of virtualization has had a profound impact on the technology industry. In the networking industry, perhaps no vendor has ridden the wave of cloud more than Arista Networks. The company was founded a little over a decade ago, and today it is a publicly traded company with a market capitalization of over $4.6 billion.
However, almost all of Arista's revenues today come from selling products inside the data center. The company was one of the most aggressive vendors in pushing the concept of a spine/leaf architecture as a replacement for a traditional multi-tier network.
This week, Arista announced its first solution that is outside the data center. The Arista Cloud Connect solution connects public and private cloud data centers. Moving into the data center interconnect market is a logical extension for Arista and highlights just how far merchant silicon has come over the past decade.
Years ago, merchant silicon was used primarily in low-performance network devices like wiring closet or branch office switches. However, merchant has come a long way and is now widely used in both leaf and spine switches. Obviously, merchant alone hasn't caused this shift. Arista has made the most of off-the-shelf silicon by coupling it with its data center-class EOS operating system.
Cloud interconnects are ripe for change as well. Legacy data center connections remind me a lot of where the data center was five years ago. Active – standby, proprietary protocols, over-engineering, and little to no encryption is still the norm in many deployments.
Today's cloud environments need the same characteristics as what's found inside the data center, where multi-path, open standards, and multi-use platforms are used. In a sense, what Arista has done is extend its spine networking platform to extend outside the data center with the following cloud interconnect use cases.
- Spine transit. Arista has added a long-haul, Coherent DWDM 6 port 100 Gbps line card with bit 56 MACsec encryption to its 7500E spine switch. The link card has 96 channels in C-band with a total transmission capacity of 10 Tbps. This is the company's first layer 1 product and can connect data centers that are up to 5000km apart. Arista has an advantage over the optical pure plays in that it can offer a consolidated, single box solution instead of requiring three, separate boxes for switching, encryption, and DWDM.
- Spine interconnect using VXLAN for layer 2 fabric extension. Currently, if a cloud provider wanted to connect two data center fabrics, it would need to do so by manipulating MPLS, which can be a complicated process, or utilizing some kind of proprietary, vendor-specific protocol that can have limitations down the road when another product is introduced. The use of VXLAN introduces a simple, standards-based way of creating a layer 2 interconnection between clouds.
- Spine peering. This is Arista's solution to connect clouds at layer 3 that doesn't require the purchase of an expensive Internet router. The primary reason organizations had to use routers at cloud interconnection points was the requirement to hold the full Internet routing table, which can exceed 1 million routes. Routers do provide a tremendous amount of value at certain points in the network, but they are overkill for cloud peering. Arista has developed a feature called Selective Route Download (SRD), where only the routes that are required (about 60,000) are carried into the hardware table. Arista estimates that it can cover about 90% of the traffic with these routes, creating an excellent, lower-cost alternative to a dedicated router.
Merchant silicon has come a long way over the past several years. Arista has taken advantage of advancements in this market and combined it with its highly flexible and programmatic operating system, EOS, to create competitive differentiation inside the data center. It's new Cloud Connect solutions brings the same cost benefits to cloud providers looking to interconnect data centers at layer one, two or three.