Cisco's New Nexus Heats Up High-End, Low-Latency Switch Wars

It was an expected move for Cisco, which told The Wall Street Journal earlier this week that it was coming out with a product to, in the words of David Yen, senior vice president and general manager, Data Center Group, "give Arista a very, very significant challenge."

Low-latency switching, which refers to systems that can pass data between data center servers at the highest speeds available, is a high-end switching niche and an Arista specialty.

The secret sauce in Cisco's Nexus 3548 is a technology called Algorithm Boost, or Algo Boost, which gives users a detailed view of how the switch is performing during production. In Cisco's words, the technology "helps financial traders accelerate price discovery, increase order flow liquidity, and better manage regulatory requirements." Cisco's proprietary ASIC, into which Algo Boost is integrated, contrasts with Arista, which uses merchant silicon for its switches.

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The Nexus product is a one-rack unit 10 GbE switch that can deliver up to 190-nanosecond latency in environments with small-to-medium Layer 2 and Layer 3 scaling requirements, and can send stock market data to servers in financial trading data centers in 50 nanoseconds using a feature called warp switch port analyzer. Other features designed to appeal to financial workers include Hitless Network Address Translation, which drives connections to trading centers without losing latency.

"Today, Cisco has leapfrogged our competitors in delivering a full-featured switch that offers the lowest latency Ethernet in the networking industry," Yen said in a prepared statement. "The Nexus 3548 with the unique Cisco Algo Boost technology implemented in ASIC provides a robust feature set to give financial traders more control over their sophisticated trading algorithms and respond more quickly to the changes in the market."

Cisco didn't confirm pricing, but several news outlets put the range as starting at about $40,000 to $50,000 per switch.

Arista earlier this week upped the programmability and confirmed lower latency in its 7150S series, which it now says operates at 350 nanoseconds. The 7150S is listed at $12,995 and will ship in the fourth quarter, according to Arista.