Cisco ups the ante for 400G Ethernet with big-bandwidth data-center switches

Cisco has 400G Ethernet switches that fall into two camps: The Nexus 9000 family aimed at large enterprise networks and the 3400-S class for hyperscale users.

Cisco ups the ante for 400G Ethernet with big-bandwidth data-center switches
Martyn Williams/IDGNS

Cisco is bringing high-speed Ethernet to the data center with four new switches it says will ultimately become the foundation of high-density, intent-based networks.

The new 400G Ethernet switches fall into two camps, two boxes in the Nexus 9000 family aimed at large-enterprise network customers and two in the 3400-S class targeted at high-bandwidth hyperscale users. These switches pave the way for Terabit Ethernet switching to become a mainstream technology, wrote Thomas Scheiberote, Cisco vice president of product management, Data Center Networking.

The Cisco announcement is the third 400G Ethernet switch pronouncement in the past few months – this summer Juniper made a wide-ranging commitment to the technology, and in October Arista joined the march with switches capable of supporting 400G speeds – both aimed at hyperscale cloud and data-center networks.

"The 400G timeline will be driven mostly by when the optics for the technology are available in scale and cost," said Sameh Boujelbene, senior director at Dell’Oro. "We see a small ramp up in 2019 – though I would also expect to hear a lot more from Cisco, Arista and Juniper next year – but then 400G ports will more than triple in the 2020 timeframe."

Cisco says 400G will let webscale customers, data-center and 5G-mobile operators create more powerful networks more cost-effectively while offering customers with four times the bandwidth and scale of current networks.

The bandwidth and scale needed for 400G is evident, Cisco says, because:

  • There will be 20 billion to 30 billion online IoT devices in the world through this decade.
  • Users will own more than 25 million 5G-capable devices by 2021 and more than 80 percent of all IP traffic will be bandwidth-hungry, latency-sensitive video content.
  • By 2021 hyperscale data centers will grow from 338 in number at the end of 2016 to 628, representing 53 percent of all installed data-center servers by 2021.

Enterprise users may be most interested in the two new Nexus 9300GX boxes, which Cisco says expand its overarching Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) and its intent-based networking data-center designs, which in real time can identify and react to changing network conditions. 

ACI brings with it support for Cisco products such as the Tetration Analytics platform, which collects all manner of  telemetry information from Cisco and non-Cisco devices on the network. The system then uses machine learning and behavior analysis to provide network administrators a greater understanding and control of their data-center resources.

For example, Cisco said Tetration gives customers a single tool to collect consistent security telemetry across the entire data center and analyze large volumes of data in real time. In a multi-cloud enterprise, Tetration can lock down tens of millions of whitelist policy entries across thousands of applications.

Another key component is Cisco’s Network Assurance Engine (NAE) software, which verifies intent-based network behavior and ensures intentions have been translated into policies and orchestrated throughout the network.

“The approach Cisco is taking with these switches – emphasizing software features over the speed of the box is really new for them, but also

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