SANTA CLARA, California — The rise of the cloud titans has disrupted the comfortable standards cycles of the networking world and is — or at least should be — forcing the ecosystem to move faster, Arista Co-Founder Andy Bechtolsheim said during the opening talk at the Linley Cloud Hardware Conference today.
“Ten years ago, there was a single company dominating the space, and — let’s just say they didn’t have a motivation to go faster,” he said. “In the new world, it’s a fundamental change in the competitive environment.”
Of course, that “single company” was Cisco — a former employer and current competitor of his. But all systems vendors are wrestling with the pace of the cloud world, he said, partly because they all rely on components vendors who, themselves, are having trouble adjusting to cloud speed.
That’s why Arista is trying to start a grass-roots standards effort for 800 Gb/s optics, which Bechtolsheim plugged briefly during his talk.
An IEEE standard for 800 Gb/s would take at least three years, and Bechtolsheim doesn’t believe cloud providers will wait that long. In fact, the 400 Gb/s standard isn’t likely to be finalized until 2018, at which point it will have been in the works for four years, he said.
“We don’t have time for this. The design activity for 800 Gb/s has to start this calendar year.”
A Faster World
One reason standards have to speed up is because cloud vendors adopt new technologies more abruptly than do traditional customers such as telecom providers, Bechtolsheim said.
A new speed grade for Ethernet — 10 Gb/s, say — used to be accompanied by a years-long transition in which customers would apply the new, expensive technology sparingly while waiting for prices to fall, he said.
Cloud vendors behave differently. “They will not buy the new thing unless it is cheaper than the old thing,” he said. Moreover, “the moment it’s cheaper than the old stuff, nobody wants the old stuff any more.”
The result is that a years-long transition between Ethernet generations has shrunk to about six months.
In the case of 100-Gb/s Ethernet, that led to some surprises. Prices for 100-Gb/s optical interfaces fell more quickly than expected, causing demand to surge and inventories to run dry. Bechtolsheim estimated the number of ports shipped at less than 1 million last year, 5 million this year, and likely 10 million next year.
“The optics industry wasn’t ready for that,” he said.
That Latest Chip
Things are similarly changing at the chip level, thanks to emerging high-end options for merchant silicon, Bechtolsheim said. In addition to market leader Broadcom, competitive chips from vendors such as Cavium and Barefoot Networks are now reaching the market.
As cloud vendors consider switches based on those chips, it creates another source of pressure for systems vendors, such as Cisco, that design their own semiconductors. Bechtolsheim founded Arista partly on the thesis that off-the-shelf chips could produce a competitive high-end switch. He returned to that theme during his talk today.
Cloud vendors “want that latest chip,” he said. “They’re not going to wait for the legacy company to tell them it’s all right to buy it. They’ve got to buy it as soon as it works.”