Arista Networks today announced a family of leaf and spine systems based on the Barefoot Tofino series of programmable Ethernet switch chips. The new Arista 7170 Series 100G systems run Arista’s Extensible Operating System (EOS).
“We’re expanding our set of switches based on silicon from Barefoot Networks,” said Martin Hull, Arista’s area vice president for cloud. “The key aspect is that unlike a lot of high-end switches and routers today, the packet processor is programmable. It’s more like a CPU. It opens up a whole set of use cases.”
Arista already offers Ethernet switches with varying degrees of programmability. Its 7050X Series uses Broadcom’s Trident-3 silicon, and its 7160 Series uses Cavium’s XP80 silicon with flexibility through EOS software upgrades.
The new 7170 Series provides a new level of programmability for customers who want that choice.
The 7170 Series is “squarely designed for being inside the data center; they are leaf and spine,” said Hull. “A lot of the systems we produce can be used as a leaf or spine. One guy’s leaf is another guy’s spine. Customers search around looking for products that can meet their needs. This 7170 gives a new set of choices.”
Programmable at the Switch
One of the initial benefits of the new platform is to move functions off of servers and onto the switch, itself. This increases server performance, allowing more work to be accomplished by the compute pool.
For example, virtual switch functions typically run as software in a server. But Hull said, “Every time you do a little more in the server, you’re bogging down the server rather than leaving it free as a CPU.” With the 7170 Series, Arista is embedding that vSwitch back into the network. “It had been running as software in the server,” said Hull. “But now it can run in the actual switch because of the silicon.”
He said there’s a trend for the big cloud providers to offer more bare metal services. Customers can rent bare metal servers in the cloud. But, “there’s a whole bunch of services you need to offer even in the bare metal environment,” Hull said. “Where do you put the services? 7170 offers a solution for that problem. This simplifies the expansion of a bare metal service.”
Additionally, because the platform is EOS-based, the same device can be used in multiple roles, each with its own profile, ensuring consistent management and provisioning. For example, the platform can be used as a network address translation (NAT) gateway. NAT is used to convert IP address schemes. “When you’re looking around for a box to run NAT, the 7170 can do it at a much lower cost,” said Hull.
Using the 7170 as a NAT gateway or using it offload functions from the server are a couple of ways the new platform could be used today. Hull said the real beauty of the platform isn’t so much its programmability as its re-programmability. “The customer can change it on the fly depending on what software you load” he said. “It’s programmable and re-programmable. We’re addressing multiple use cases with the same device.”
For its part, Barefoot Networks is already working on more use cases for its Tofino programmable switch chip. In December, the company announced Barefoot Deep Insight, a network monitoring system that leverages the Tofino chip.