Arista Networks has launched a new series of low-latency switches with improved programmability designed to support architectures that interoperate with software-defined networking controllers.

The Arista 7150S uses the company’s Extensible Operating System (EOS), a modular switch OS that separates the switch state from protocol processing and application logic. The 7150S also features a fully programmable hardware forwarding plane. “It can enable new protocols without having to force a hardware upgrade,” says Anshul Sadana, Arista’s senior VP of customer engineering.

The low latency of the 7150S supports the scaling of applications related to big data and cloud computing, while addressing multitenancy requirements without decreased performance, he adds. The 7150S is particularly suited to meeting low-latency demands of electronics communications networks in the financial services sector, high-performance computing clusters and cloud data centers.

In terms of speed, the 7150S delivers port-to-port latency of 350 nanoseconds for Layer 2/3 forwarding when 40-GbE ports are enabled. It also can deliver up to 64 wire speed 1/10 G Ethernet or 16 40-G Ethernet ports, while further scalability can be achieved by combining four 10-G ports into a single 40-G port.

The 7150S supports VXLAN tunnels at wire speed so workloads can be moved faster between physical and virtual machines. “Where the physical machine doesn’t support a VXLAN capability, the end switch provides the VXLAN termination for the network,” says Martin Hull, a senior product manager at Arista. “Not only can we support virtual to physical, but we can also support tunneling from virtual machines to appliance-like devices like firewalls and load balancers that may not have the capability to understand VXLAN.”

The 7150S also features support for network address translation and the IEEE 1588 Precision Time Protocol on a single system, says Hull.

Rohit Metra, director of enterprise communications infrastructure at IDC, said the programmability of the 7150S is a major step up from the 7124 (which was programmable by partners) in that Arista can make changes to the forwarding plane without organizations having to make significant hardware changes. In the past, changes could require anywhere from 12 to 24 months turnaround time, he says.

The difference with the 7150S is that changes in the forwarding plane would be made by Arista in subsequent iterations, “but these changes have a turnaround time that are significantly faster–weeks or months, as opposed to a one- or two-year cycle to spin a new product with a new forwarding plane,” says Metra. “It adds a lot to Arista’s flexibility and ability to respond to changing application needs with their switching platform.”

Samuel Barnett, a directing analyst at Infonetics Research, says the key to Arista’s platform strategy has been its EOS, which allows it to cross hardware platforms. “Arista certainly has led the charge in more of a software model for networking. This makes SDN elements much easier for them to achieve than some other players.”

He says the VXLAN support included in the 7150S is in line with how enterprises and service providers are looking to build data centers. “Anything we can do to reduce connection times and transit latencies, the better off we are–especially in time-sensitive transactions.”

Barnett says the 7150S is well-positioned for high-performance, low-latency networking, such as high-frequency trading, as well as other applications in the financial vertical and big data. He adds that 40 G is gaining traction but mostly in configurations combining four 10-G ports. “Router interfaces at 40 G are still too expensive for widespread adoption.”

SDN has the potential to solve a lot of problems for service providers, but use cases within the enterprise are less clear, says Barnett. “In the service provider space it could give a vendor the ability to rapidly provision and deliver new services.”

However, he adds, enterprises won’t be throwing away more than 20 years of routing and switching knowledge in favor of SDN. It’s a powerful tool, but it can be dangerous. “Is it reasonable to assume the typical IT shop has the depth and breadth of knowledge about its own network and the applications that rely on that network to disregard the safeguards that we’ve established through networking protocols?” Barnett asks. “Most, no. Some, yes.”

Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, says there’s still some confusion over what’s included under the SDN umbrella. “SDN and some of the enabling technologies are still relatively new, so organizations need to separate the hype from the reality,” he says. “Organizations really need to get educated on the technology, understand how it will integrate into their environment over time, whether that be physical or virtual network environments, enterprise or service providers.”

Arista’s focus on being open and programmable and more concentrated on software than hardware has made it easy for third parties to integrate their products with the company’s technology, Laliberte says, which has been demonstrated by recent announcements at VMworld by VMware, F5 and EMC.

The 7150S also allows enterprises to connect to third-party SDN controllers from Arista partners including Big Switch, Nebula and VMware.

Arista’s 7150S switches are priced starting at $12,995 and can be ordered now for shipping during the fourth quarter.