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Arista Networks said it has begun shipping the first top-of-rack switches based on Broadcom's next-generation merchant silicon.

The Arista 7050X is based on Broadcom's StrataXGS Trident II chip. The 2.56 Tbps switch can process 1.44 billion packets per second with 550 nanoseconds of port-to-port latency. It comes in two models: The 1 RU 7050QX-32 ships with 32 QFSP+ ports that can support 96 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports or 32 40 GbE ports, and the 2 RU 7050SX-128 has 96 SFP+ for 10 GbE connectivity and 8 QSFP+ ports for 40 GbE connectivity.

The switch can scale to 288,000 MAC addresses. Its supports 64-way multi-link aggregation (MLAG) and equal-cost multi-path (ECMP) routing. It can also function as a VXLAN gateway.

The Arista 7050X is fundamentally a top-of-rack switch for high-performance data centers, particularly high-frequency trading environments and supercomputing environments, said Brad Casemore, research director at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. The switch will also fit into leaf-spine architectures with the MLAG and ECMP features it ships with. While most top-of-rack switches on the market typically serve as leaf switches, the high-density 40 GbE model could serve as a spine switch, given its ability to aggregate high-bandwidth uplinks from server racks.

The introduction of the 7050X switch came a day after Cisco's Nexus 3100 series announcement, setting the stage for an ongoing arms race between the two vendors, Casemore said. The Nexus 3100 is also based on the Trident II, but it won't start shipping until November.

"It reminds me of the world of RISC workstations from decades ago. It was a game of leapfrog from release to release," he said. "What's important is [the competition] eventually became all about the applications." Casemore said the area of applications is where Arista is now trying to distinguish itself.

Arista sets out portfolio of 'Tracer' applications for its operating system

To that end, Arista is renewing is emphasis on the applications that customers can run on its Extensible Operating System (EOS) by announcing a family of "Network Tracer" applications. Arista has had such apps for a few years -- particularly VM Tracer, which pins visibility into the virtual infrastructure to physical switches, and Latency Analyzer, which allows network engineers to connect latency and congestion information to the application layer so the network can prioritize traffic more effectively.

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Arista added two new Tracer apps with its 7050X announcement. Path Tracer is a network monitoring and analysis tool designed to improve visibility into leaf-spine networks where the resiliency of multi-path connections like ECMP and MLAG make it difficult for network engineers to track down network faults. MapReduce Tracer is a big data application that interacts with Hadoop workloads to help the network react and recover when big data nodes fail or congestion slows down time-sensitive analytics.

"There's some good added functionality [with Network Tracers]," Casemore said. "It's a software set that was lost on a lot of the Arista install base in the financial markets."

Such applications will prove helpful to data centers that adopt network virtualization, said Peter Christy, research director with New York-based 451 Research.

"When you move into modern network technologies like VMware NSX overlays, it becomes harder and harder to understand where the problems are on the network," Christy said. "You might move something around and now it doesn't work. It's hard to understand if it's a hardware issue or a software issue." Network Tracers should help improve that visibility, he said.

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