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Arista Outpaces Cisco Again With FPGA Switch

Applications and initiatives like private cloud computing, virtualization and mobility are placing increasing pressure on network infrastructure to be faster and more capable. Initiatives like software-defined networking and protocols such as OpenFlow can make the network more flexible and manageable, but they don’t really solve the problem of application performance where high-speed, low-latency requirements are the rule. Only by removing hops and their attendant latency from the network

The 7124FX, however, may signal a change in flexible networking. You wouldn’t run an entire application on the FPGA. Rather, the control plane would be based on whatever software is being run on a server in the data center, but the functions that can be executed in the FPGA would be pushed down to the switch for processing. A trading application runs on the server, but the rules to make automated trades based on the market feeds are pushed into the FPGA. The application functionality is split across both the server and switch.

Arista has developed an SDK that developers can use to create FPGA code that can be loaded on the switch, and also has partners like Impulse C and Enyx that can write the FPGA code. Admittedly, few companies are going to write their own FPGA code, and they would need a very compelling use case, such as the need to execute a trade before their competitors, to do so. It does allow third parties to run their FPGA applications on Arista’s switch. For example, a firewall or load balancer vendor could integrate with the 7124FX, with the control plane being a server and pushing firewall or traffic processing rules into the FPGA.

In-line processing would make network designs simpler because IT would no longer have to worry about putting another appliance in-line or using some out-of-band protocol like WCCP or policy-based routing to direct the traffic to a specific processing engine.

The 7124FX is not a fit for everyone. The leading requirement is an application that uses, or can use, FPGAs for data processing. The potential applications are fairly wide, however. Video distributors could use the FPGAs for transcoding. Carriers could use them to process flows across their networks. Cloud companies could offer line-rate firewalling and load balancing across all of their customers.

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