Arista brings network flexibility to the network switch

Arista’s new 7160 series brings agility and programmability to the actual switch, giving customers the ability customize the product for specific location needs

Arista brings network flexibility to the network switch

The terms digital, speed and agility all go hand in hand. In the digital era, companies need to make decisions and implement them quickly. This has put new pressures on the IT department to responder faster than ever before. To accomplish that, IT needs to be agile, which is why there has been such heavy investment in things such as containers, the cloud, virtualization and other technologies that make the infrastructure more dynamic. 

The drive to be more agile has been the primary force behind the shift to software-defined networks (SDN). SDNs increase dynamism through programmability, orchestration and network virtualization at a network level.

However, the network switches, the building blocks of an SDN haven’t really changed that much. This has caused customers to have to buy more specialized switches to meet the demands of the various points in the network. Today’s data centers require switches with different forwarding resources and profiles based on where they are located in the network and the rigidity of current network devices means they have to buy multiple products. 

Arista announces AlgoMatch and new 7160 series

Today, Arista Networks announced its new AlgoMatch feature, an innovative new way of doing network enforcement, along with the new 7160 series switches based on the highly anticipated Cavium XPliant silicon. Arista is the first switch vendor to announce a product with the new Cavium chip. 

The 7160 demonstrates just how flexible the Arista architecture is. Typically, when a network vendor changes silicon providers, it releases an entirely new platform—sometimes with a new operating system—which can cause some challenges with customers because they need to learn how to work with a whole new product family. Arista’s operating system, EOS, is highly flexible and has remained consistent across four different silicon families (Fulcrum-FM, Broadcom-DNX, Broadcom-XGS and Cavium). 

The chip is built on a programmable pipeline that that offers a level of flexibility not previously available on switches with fixed pipelines. The product offers something called Flexible Forwarding Profiles that enable the switch to be programmed specifically for the certain needs. 

Traditional switches allocate common resources in a balanced manner. The 7160 series enables different profiles to be applied to support specific needs, such as being layer 2- or layer 3-centric or requiring large routing tables in a data center leaf-spine architecture. One product, multiple use cases. An argument can be made for network processors, but they often take a performance hit with the different profiles. This may have been sufficient in the past, but in the digital era we need performance and agility. 

The 7160 switches support IEEE standards-based 25 Gig-E, which is 2.5x the performance of 10 Gig-E, offering a dramatic price benefit on a cost-per-gigabit basis. Traffic volumes are currently going through the roof, and the 25 Gig-E support will enable companies to cost-effectively move to 25, 50 and 100 Gig-E.

AlgoMatch improves power efficiency

Another interesting feature of the new switch family is something called AlgoMatch, which is a combination of general-purpose memory with advanced software algorithms. Ternary Content Addressable Memory (TCAM) has been the de facto standard for switch memory for ages. This type of memory has been purpose-built for the networking industry and carries a high price point. 

AlgoMatch uses what amounts to a large grid of general-purpose memory. The software uses some clever algorithms to fire up only the small amount of memory it needs when information is written to it or retrieved from it. With TCAMs, the entire memory bank is powered up for the same procedures. Arista claims it can get anywhere from a 2x to 6x improvement in power efficiency with AlgoMatch. The feature provides richer support for flexible access control, traffic management and telemetry. Other benefits include increased scale for both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, enhanced security policies and better visibility and flow filtering. 

I asked Arista if AlgoMatch was specific to the Cavium-based products and was told the 7160 is the first to support the feature, but it’s not exclusively for this series. The same algorithms can be applied to other systems and get similar functionality. 

The 7160 Series is available in three models: 

  • 7160-32CQ — 32 x 100GbE, 1RU, or 128 x 25GbE with 6.4Tbps of performance
  • 7160-48YC6 — 48 x 25GbE, 6 x 100GbE with 3.6Tbps of performance
  • 7160-48TC6 — 48 x 10GbE BASE-T, 6 x 100GbE and 2.16Tbps of performance

AlgoMatch will ship on the Arista 7160 Series in Q1 2017. The Arista 7160 Series models are available for order now and will ship in Q1 2017 with pricing comparable to the 7050X and 7060X Series. 

SDNs have brought levels of flexibility to networks that have never been seen before, but most of the agility and programmability has been at a system level. Arista’s new 7160 series brings these capabilities to the actual switch, giving customers the ability customize the product for the specific needs of the location in which it sits.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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