Increased programmability brings more options to networks


Options. Everyone needs options. Whenever I travel somewhere with my wife, Christine, even if it’s for a weekend, she needs to check a bag. When I ask her why, she says, “A girl needs options,” hence the oversize luggage.

While it’s been easy for someone like my wife to have options, network engineers have never really had the same luxury. Network switches were typically built with fixed functionality, so an organization would need to purchase a wide range of equipment to meet all their needs. 

Network professionals need greater flexibility from the network

Recently, the chip manufacturers have been building more programmable, flexible products. One of the examples of this is the Cavium XPliant processor that is the silicon that powers Arista’s 7160 switch. Another example is the Barefoot Networks Tofino processor. In addition to being one of the most scenic places on the planet, Tofino is a powerful system on a chip with a fully programmable parser and pipeline. The chip supports 256x 25 Gig-E Serializer/Deserializer (SerDes) at speeds of 1, 10, 25, 40, 50, and 100 Gig-E.

This week, Arista announced an addition to its 7100 series: the 7170, which leverages the Tofino silicon. The 71XX line has become Arista’s value-added set of switches and includes the 7150 (Fulcrum) and previously mentioned 7160 (Cavium). I believe Arista is the first networking vendor to announce a product with the Tofino processor. There may be some white box provider that has a Tofino-based product, but Arista is the first one with volume.

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