A switch with multiple personalities. That’s the concept behind Cisco’s new Nexus 3550-T Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) switch platform. This groundbreaking platform is the first FPGA switch with Layer 3 capabilities that can also run multiple applications ─ personalities ─ by leveraging the Cisco Firmware Development Kit (FDK). It’s also the first new Cisco switch based on the Exablaze FPGA technology from the Exablaze acquisition in February 2020.

Layer 3 Switching Speedster

The first personality that comes with the Nexus 3550-T is firmware for ultra-low latency 10G Layer 3 switching for high-frequency trading (HFT) use cases. The platform initially operates as a 48-port low-latency Layer 3 switch, configurable using the switch object. Customers can define multiple, independent logical switches that incorporate any of the front panel ports. The firmware can also define mux and mirror objects. The platform is extensible to 25G port speed in the future. And it’s built to be fast ─ beating the current record set by the Nexus 3548.

An Application Platform Built on Software-Defined Hardware

But to call the Nexus 3550-T just a switch platform is to sell it short. Think of it as an application platform built to solve application challenges across various customer verticals and use cases.

We call it “software-defined hardware” because the Nexus 3550-T has the performance characteristics of hardware combined with the agility and programmability of software. That’s possible due to the flexibility of the FPGA-based design. Using the FDK, customers can bring this platform to life by designing feature extensions, upgrades, and custom applications.

For example, with programmable extensibility to the Cisco Nexus Data Broker solution, the platform can be used to selectively redirect traffic to a broker network and process captured traffic. “Leveraging the inherent agility and flexibility of FPGA-based hardware was a primary goal at Exablaze,” says Greg Robinson, the former CEO of Exablaze and now a director in Cisco Engineering. “The hardware/software combination now finds even broader applications within the diverse Cisco customer base. With access to additional resources and a wider range of ideas and customer requirements, the Nexus 3550-T development team looks forward to delivering a growing list of solutions based on the platform.”

Coming Soon: More Applications

This one rack unit 48 port switch is built around a flexible FPGA device that offers long-term feature enhancements, upgrades, and custom applications using the Firmware Development Kit environment. More custom personalities are in the works at Cisco, with innovative ways of using the Nexus 3550-T to add new features and efficiencies to support ultra-low latency and performance-based architectures.

Tell us what you will do with the latest innovation in the Nexus FPGA switching platform and the Cisco Firmware Development Kit.



What is low latency?

Cisco Nexus 3550 Series web page

Cisco Nexus 3550-T Programmable Switch Platform At-a-Glance

Cisco Nexus FDK At-a-Glance

Nexus FDK web page with “What is FDK” video


Thomas Scheibe

Vice President, Product Management

Cloud Networking