Cisco has just introduced the Nexus 3548 10-gigabit Ethernet switch, using its new Algorithm Boost technology, which it calls Algo Boost, for short. The networking giant says this innovative technology helps the Nexus 3548 deliver up to 60 percent improvement in network-access performance compared to other 10-gigabit Ethernet switches.

Some are comparing it with switches from nimble new competitor Arista Networks, as well as the more well-established Juniper Networks. Arista launched in 2008 and, perhaps not coincidentally, is also in the process of announcing a new series of network switches today, the 7150 Series, using its "software defined networking" approach.

Ultra Fast

For its part, the Nexus 3548 is designed for high-performance computing environments, like high-performance financial trading and data centers that handle heavy-duty "Big Data."

Cisco says the 3548 boasts network-access performance as low as 190 nanoseconds. That's an important advance for high-performance trading markets, where getting and acting on real-time equities, options and other financial market information nanoseconds faster than competitors may be worth millions of dollars.

"Our members expect to connect using high performing and reliable infrastructure for real-time trading and market data," said Nigel Harold, head of business development technology at the London Stock Exchange. "The new Algo Boost ASIC technology that will be available in the Cisco Nexus 3548 switch offers ultra-low latency and unique features that can increase our visibility across the network and further boost reliability for our customers."

Under the Hood

Globally interconnected financial markets have elevated the demands on trading networks, making visibility and control equally critical to performance. Proactive management of market volatility, granular real-time monitoring, and precision timing accuracy of trade events give trading participants greater control and visibility at peak opportunity times across the globe. Cisco says its Nexus 3548 with Algo Boost was designed specifically to provide those capabilities.

A Precision Time Protocol, for example, helps trading firms keep their entire infrastructure synchronized, while Active Buffer Monitoring proactively monitors and alerts users to congestion points that could be occurring and may affect application performance.

Meanwhile, Intelligent Traffic Mirroring consists of filtering and nanosecond time-stamping of captured traffic, which can help traders gain greater visibility into why gapping, slippage and slow order situations occur, correlating these trends with analytics tools to help enable smarter trading decisions.

David Yen, senior vice president of Data Center Group at Cisco, said Cisco has leapfrogged the competition with its new switch. And Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, agreed. When Arista came out of nowhere, Kerravala said, it took Cisco by surprise and the networking giant fell behind in the market. The Nexus 3548 helps put Cisco back on top, in a market it ruled for many years.

Two Different Approaches

"This product is built with Cisco's custom silicon. With custom silicon, Cisco can get the numbers down to the absolute lowest possible for today's technology. That's what you see here," Kerravala told us.

"I wouldn't say Arista is going to go under from this by any stretch of the imagination. When you look at the demographics of the base that's interested in ultra low latency, it tends to be Wall Street firms and others that tend to buy from multiple vendors anyway. So there is room for both."

As Kerravala sees it, Arista's competitive differentiation is on the software side. Arista is competing on interoperability and broad ecosystem, and its operating system was designed for software-defined networking. Arista has a strong base and is working to expand into other verticals.

The battle between Cisco and Arista is ultimately a battle between two different approaches: one highly programmable operating system that Arista has and the custom silicon route that Cisco normally chooses.

"All said and done, Cisco tends to win a lot of these battles because they can do some unique things with their custom silicon. They can do it because of their size," Kerravala said. "You can't really throw that kind of R&D at a problem unless you have the revenues to do so, and sometimes it's hard to get the revenue to do it unless you throw R&D at the problem."

Key Highlights and Specs

The Nexus 3548 one-rack-unit (1RU) 10 GB Ethernet switch running in "warp mode" offers latencies as low as 190 ns in those environments with small to medium Layer 2 and Layer 3 scaling requirements.

The ultra-low-latency switch also facilitates the efficient delivery of stock market data to financial trading servers in as little as 50 ns with the warp switch port analyzer (SPAN) feature.

The Nexus 3548 also includes Hitless Network Address Translation (NAT), a critical feature to allow algorithmic traders to easily connect to any trading venue they desire without any latency penalty.

Cisco Nexus 3548 switch latency speeds were verified using Spirent TestCenter across various workloads and using testing specifications developed jointly with Spirent Communications.