Arista Brings Some Beef to Hyperscale Environments

PRODUCT ANALYSIS: Arista Networks announces its new 7360X series of switches that double system density and reduce power requirements, all of which leads to a more cost-effective network.


It’s nearing the end of winter, which means the sun is shining and birds are singing. It also means it’s conference season, with Mobile World Congress and RSA having just taken place. This week’s event is the Open Compute Project’s (OCP) Global Summit in San Jose. 

This week at OCP, Arista Networks announced its new 7360X series of switches that doubles system density and reduces power requirements, all of which leads to a more cost-effective network. The switch is built using Broadcom’s Tomahawk3 silicon, which has a whopping 12.8TB of capacity. This equates to 32 x 400 Gig ports, 64 x 200 Gig, 128 x 100 Gig or some combination of the difference speeds.

I recall when the first 1TB switch came out--and what a landmark moment that was!--and now the industry is at an order of magnitude more than that. The last four years alone have seen switching capacity increase 4x, from 3.2TB to 12.8TB.

Arista’s architecture is designed to be open and flexible, and because of that, it’s been able to quickly adapt to whatever the latest silicon regardless of manufacturer. Over the past several years, it has launched products that contain Broadcom, Barefoot and Cavium.

'Fixed-Modular' Switch

The new 7360X series has an interesting design in that it’s the first “fixed-modular” switch. This may sound like an oxymoron, but the product is designed around a single chip (Tomahawk3). It’s fixed, but it does have removable cards, therefore it’s modular. The switch is a 4RU form factor but was designed for flexibility. Instead of using the typical horizontal line cards, the 7360X has half height, vertical cards increasing the flexibility.

For example, the switch could initially be configured with eight 16-port 100 Gig line cards.  When the need came to test 400 Gig, one of the 16-port 100 Gig line cards could be removed and replace with a single four-port 400 Gig card. 

Given the falling prices of 100 Gig optics combined with the lack of availability of 400 Gig connectors, I believe most customers will initially use the product for high-density 100 Gig environments. Businesses can then migrate to 400 Gig as they require while keeping an eye on pricing. The increased flexibility that the half-height cards brings makes this easy to do without breaking the bank on connectors.

Another interesting aspect of this switch is the removable switching card. Other products in this class typically have a fixed switch card, meaning upgrading to the next family of silicon would require a forklift upgrade. The removable switch card can be swapped out, preserving the investment in existing line cards. 

Various Silicon Handles Speed Differently

It’s important to understand that not all switch upgrades are done for speed. Some silicon handles large flows better; other silicon has flexible pipelines, so organizations needing flexibility with their network can move to different families as easily as possible.

Since its inception, Arista’s products have been designed to be open. One proof point of this is that the 7360X series can run Arista’s own EOS operating system or FBOSS (Facebook Open Switch Software). This FBOSS version isn’t available as a commercial product, but it does highlight that the underlying hardware can run more than EOS. 

The promise of white box has been out there for a long time, but it’s largely been a flop. One of the reasons is that white box vendors do not offer the same kind of support as a more traditional vendor. Arista’s model lets customers leverage white box but has the reliability and support needed to use them in production environments.

400 Gb Overkill? Not for Hyperscale

400 Gig networks might seem like overkill for most companies, and the near-term opportunity for Arista is with cloud and hyperscale. However, as I pointed out in this post on the NVIDIA acquisition of Mellanox, data centers are changing, and eventually all data centers will look and act like hyperscale ones. 

Artificial intelligence, deep learning, NVMe over Fabric and other trends are all driving up traffic, particularly East-West. This creates the need to embrace new architectures such as a two-tier leaf-spine or even single tier “spline.”

As the data center continues to evolve, network evolution will accelerate making flexibility at the network and box important. Arista’s new 7360X lets customers deploy high-density 100 Gig today and them evolve the network to 400 Gig at their own pace.

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.