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Algo Boost Series: Part 2 Customer Perspective on Cisco Nexus 3548

On October 5th I posted part 1 of the Algo Boost series with a fantastic discussion around the latency innovations on the Nexus 3548. Today, we announced that these units are now shipping to customers and the much anticipated wait is over to get this game changing technology! This is perfect timing as I introduce part 2 of the series with Errol Roberts, Distinguished System Engineer for the top Data Center accounts, to bring a customer perspective to the ultra-low latency Nexus 3548 in a High Performance Trading fabric.

[GD]  I know that you spend a lot of your time talking with customers. What are our Financial Services customers telling you about their environments and requirements?

[ER] When meeting with these customers, I like to ask a single question – “What value can an infrastructure company provide to high-performance trading workloads”.  Key points relating to the switching are captured by the following:

  • First, customers ask for a network solution and architecture that provides them with the fastest end-to-end functionality. Providing the “Lowest latency possible” is one vector, another vector being a rich “feature-set” answering the different architecture and network requirements end-to-end. Naturally there is a need for speed while at the same time providing the features within the same device. For example in collocated High Frequency Trading environments; the lowest latency being key; it’s not the only factor; support for the routing protocol such as BGP, multicast with PIM Sparse mode, ultra low latency SPAN at linerate with multiple ports; this is achieved with the technology called Warp SPAN.
  • Next, “Handle microbursts”. Volatility is correlated. When you are running cross-asset class, cross-liquidity venue strategies, there is often short-lived congestion that increases latency. These volatile periods are often the most opportunity rich.
  • Also, “Unique features”.  They want features like Network Address Translation to meet their business needs. You don’t want these features to add latency. In fact you don’t want to have any of the L4 or services applied on the network to add latency.
  • Next, “Flexibility and Programmability”. They want to control their traffic flow, mirror relevant traffic, have fine-grained flexibility and also have reactivity on events. Python scripting language is a good example of automation. With Python script, you can have the switch react on different environmental changes such as a sanity check when the device comes online as well as for example triggering emails when the burst happening at the buffer level exceed for example 10 nanoseconds.
  • In addition, facilitate “Precision Time”. You cannot control what you cannot measure. Without precision time, you invest in an infrastructure and just hope you get optimal performance. With precision time protocol you can keep all of your servers and network elements highly synchronized at the nanosecond level.  You can even measure the accuracy of the tool through a 1 pulse per second output port. Also, the Nexus 3548 can timestamp traffic with IEEE 1588, which allows analyzers to replay events.

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Algo Boost Series: Part 1 Nexus 3548 Latency Innovations

The Nexus 3548 with Algo Boost was announced last week and received a lot of positive buzz around this game changing innovation. To follow up on Berna Devrim’s Introduction Blog, I am introducing a multipart series that goes into more specifics by Cisco experts. As part 1 of the series, I recently had the opportunity to have a chat with Will Ochandarena about the latency enhancements. Will is a Senior Product Manager in the Server Access and Virtualization Business Unit.  In this role, he is responsible for the Nexus 3548 switch, and Cisco’s low latency switching strategy.

GD: The Cisco Nexus 3548 switch with Algo Boost was announced on September 19th and received a lot of positive attention. Can you elaborate a little more on the latency that this switch can achieve? How does this benefit our financial customers?

<WO>: The custom switching ASIC in the Nexus 3548, codenamed Monticello, sets a new bar for switching latency.  Our engineers worked tirelessly to eliminate unnecessary nanoseconds from the forwarding path, tweaking it down to as low as 190 nanoseconds (ns).  Best of all,  this latency is achieved even when we are doing full layer-2 and layer-3 switching, with features such as Network Address Translation (NAT) enabled.   We actually went as far as to offer a few different switching modes, each with different latency and forwarding characteristics, in order to give our customers the most flexibility in their deployments.

In terms of the impact on our end customers, we consistently hear from companies in the financial community that switch latency has a direct impact on the profitability of their business. Trading firms – as well as the exchanges and other participants – gain significant business advantage if the supporting infrastructure enables them to acquire data and execute trades nanoseconds faster than the competition.

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Introducing Cisco Algo Boost and Nexus 3548 – Breaking 200 ns Latency Barrier!

… While Delivering Superior Fabric Visibility!

Today, at the High Performance Computing for Wall Street event, we announced Cisco Algorithm Boost or Algo Boost technology, a groundbreaking networking innovation with numerous patents pending, that offers the highest speed, visibility and monitoring capabilities in the networking industry.  A true game changer delivering competitive advantage to our customers!

Ideal for high performance trading, big data and high performance computing environments, this new technology offers network access performance as low as 190 nanoseconds, more than 60% faster than other full featured Ethernet switches.  When your business success is determined by nanoseconds, this is a huge gain!

The first switch to integrate the Cisco Algo Boost technology is the new Cisco Nexus 3548 full-featured switch which extends Cisco’s leadership in networking by pairing performance and low latency with innovations in visibility, automation, and time synchronization.  And it is tightly integrated with the rich feature set of our Nexus Operating System, a proven operating system used in many of the world’s leading data centers, creating a truly differentiated offering.


Algo boost infographic from Cisco Data Center

So you may ask how we deliver this breakthrough offering that will change the game.  Here is how…

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USS Cisco Captain’s Log on Networking Tech Field Day 2

Captain’s log, October 27, 2011:

The USS Cisco took off for the Gestalt IT Networking Tech Field Day 2 with Captain Omar Sultan (see picture below, courtesy of, Data Center Solutions Sr. Marketing Manager, at the helm. Tech Field Day networking industry experts gathered on the bridge, cleverly disguised as the Cisco Cloud Innovation Center (CICC) Lab, for an informal, no-holds-barred conversation on recent Nexus portfolio announcements, the continued march towards automated provisioning of cloud services and ever-evolving VM networking technologies.

Captain Omar at Cisco Networking Tech Field Day 2

For those who weren’t at the event or haven’t seen the video recording yet, please excuse my unabashed geekiness, but you’ll have to watch the first minute of the video to get the above reference. As a new member of the Data Center Solutions Marketing team, this is also my first foray into the Cisco blog-o-sphere, so I hope to share some fresh viewpoints on the day’s events.

Several things were made very apparent during the Tech Field Day session:

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Re-defining Fabric Scale: Thinking Beyond the “Box”

Today we are making a significant announcement with several new innovations across our data center and switching portfolio that showcase how our customers can build large scale-up and scale-out data center networks.  While the press release does a great job (thanks Lee!) of highlighting all the innovations across the Nexus Unified Fabric portfolio and the new ASA 1000v, two aspects of the announcement stand out quite prominently:

  1. Cisco is delivering the highest density 10GbE modular switching platform in the industry
  2. Cisco is delivering the most scalable fabric in the industry and, by extension – on the planet! (we’re told planet sounds much cooler)

No. 1 above is fairly straightforward. With our new 2nd-generation F2 line card and Fabric 2 module, at 768 ports of 10GbE line-rate switching ports running NX-OS, the flagship Nexus 7018 in a fully-loaded configuration is simply the epitome of switch scale.

No.2 is where things get interesting, because we’re no longer thinking about just the “box” but rather, how we can weave different elements across the data center into a holistic “fabric”.  This systems-based approach focuses on multi-dimensional scale transcending the box and even the data center LAN, to span between data centers, while providing feature-rich fabric capabilities.  At 12,000+ 10GbE nodes supported as part of one Fabricpath-enabled system, and with the ability to support Fabric Extender (FEX) technology (plus L2 and L3 capabilities), this approach re-defines fabric scalability at 2X the scale and half the cost point of the next best claim in the industry. More important, it achieves this in an evolutionary manner for our 19,000+ NX-OS customers, offering investment protection for brownfield deployments while raising the bar for greenfield environments!

The Nexus platforms have been around for 3+ years, and over 500 customers have deployed FabricPath on the Nexus 7000 alone since its introduction about an year ago. It is a proven technology. With Fabricpath now coming onto the Nexus 5500 platforms, the momentum is likely to spike up with a mix of both size and scale. Like I said, things get interesting.

To make it more fun, our technical experts from the product teams have taken a data-driven approach and compared Cisco’s new innovations and our box and system-scale with others in the industry.

They looked at a couple of representative examples – the first being, what it would take any other vendor to build a non-blocking 768-port 10GbE “switch”, with capabilities similar to what the Nexus 7000 could provide in a single chassis. The second example takes a look at what it takes to build a “fabric” with Cisco leveraging its Nexus portfolio and NX-OS to build that.

Take a look and let us know what you think. It is useful to note that most vendors in the industry today have no fabric capabilities to speak of, and the few that are attempting a systems approach, have really limited to no customer traction thus far. Our customers and key analysts tell us that Cisco has a multi-year innovation lead in this space, even as Cisco continues to focus on bringing the network, compute, storage and application services together with integrated management to drive productivity and efficiency across traditional IT and organizational silos.

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