Cisco Goes After Low-Latency with New Nexus

New switching platform combines silicon and software to achieve latency as low as only 50ns.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Sep 19, 2012
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In the world of high-speed trading, nanoseconds count. It's a message that Cisco's customers were telling the networking giant and Cisco is now responding.

Cisco today announced its lowest latency switching platform ever with the Nexus 3548. The new Nexus is a 1RU 10 GbE platform that combines Cisco's NX-OS operating system with new custom built silicon to deliver ultra-low latency.

At the core of the Nexus 3548 is a new solution that Cisco calls, Algo Boost. Rajan Panchanathan, dir. of product management in Cisco's Data Center Group, explained to EnterpriseNetworkingPlanetthat Algo Boost isn't just about low latency t's also about providing tools and visibility into what is going on in the packet stream. To that end, the Nexus 3548 with its complement of visibility of control features is able to deliver latency at a record low of 190 ns.

"Algo Boost is a collection of technologies that reduce latency and provides a rich analytical framework for deep visibility," Panchanathan said. "As well there is s intelligent traffic layering that allows the platform to be used for digital forensics and troubleshooting."

Algo Boost is technology that involves both hardware and software. On the hardware side, Cisco has developedCisco Algo Boost ASIC custom silicon in the form of a new ASIC that is a core component of Algo Boost. That ASIC is being first made available on the new Nexus 3548 switch.

"Algo Boost as a technology can be leveraged across other Cisco silicon and you should expect in the future that there will be other Nexus product in our data center portfolio that will leverage this technology," Panchanathan said.

The new ASIC in turn is enabled by Cisco's NX-OS operating system that run on the Nexus switch portfolio.

"The combination of the ASIC along with the NX-OS functionality that implements the analytics to go along with the capabilities, together provides the full benefits," Panchanathan said.

Going a step further, Panchanathan noted that while the 190 ns latency is the best that Cisco has provided to date, the Nexus 3548 can actually go even lower for certain use cases. With the Warp switch port analyzer, Cisco can deliver latency as low as 50 ns. That low number however does not include the Layer 2/3 network visibility features. The Warp delivery is likely suited for uses cases that include market data feed replication.

"The warp mode is when users just say that they don't need any features," Panchanathan said. "It's for users that just want to take market data and distribute it to all the trading systems in the fastest possible time."

He noted that warp mode can be enabled on any number of ports on the Nexus 3548. The switch is however only one component among many in the market data feed delivery system. When it comes to actually benefiting from the new latency low for market data that the Nexus 3548 will enable, Panchanathan added that Cisco is working with an ecosystem of partners to help make sure terminals get the full benefit of the speed boost.

Achieving the regular low latency of 190 ns with full network visibility might also vary depending on the application use case.

"What the Nexus 3548 sets a new benchmark for low-latency," Panchanathan said."The in-use latency will vary depending on what the application is, what the network path is and else is on that path."

That said, since the Nexus 3548 is based on Cisco's existing NX-OS, Panchanathan expects that existing Cisco fabric customer can likely just drop the switch into an existing network.

"This is a standards-based 10 GbE switch," said. "If they were already using Cisco fabric with the Nexus 3000 for example, it provides the same NX-OS software, so this just adds another level of seamless transition for customers to go from that platform to this one."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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