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Arista Application Switch Extends Choices for FPGA Deployment and Architectures

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Last month’s announcement by Arista Networks of its 7124FX Application Switch – which incorporates an Altera FPGA alongside low-latency network switching – has expanded the possibilities for system architects looking to incorporate hardware acceleration by running application code – such as algo trading – on FPGAs. It’s also boosted the industry penetration of FPGA chipmaker Altera, over rival Xilinx.

Before the 7124FX came along, those looking to leverage FPGAs for running business logic typically had a choice between an appliance or a network interface card (NIC) approach when it came to where to burn their code.

Appliances:

NovaSparks – with its Gen2 matrix appliance housing up to three Altera FPGAs, and which can be interconnected to form larger matrices – is working on a proof of concept implementation of algorithmic trading logic, alongside the data feed handling and order book functionality that it provides as standard.

Then there’s Maxeler, with its new Maximum Performance Trading platform, which incorporate its Xilinx-based MAX3 dataflow engines, and which presented at the recent London Low-Latency Summit on “tick to trade” applications running in hardware.

Meanwhile, RedDotNetworks‘ Symphony platform has been used by market participants for pre-trade risk functions running on a Xilinx FPGA in its 1U rack appliance.  It’s also being pitched at algo trading and market data applications.

Interestingly, NovaSparks – as well as rival Exegy (which has a Xilinx FPGA-based ticker plant) – have been named by Arista as partners for their application switch. Both companies are looking to implement functionality that is complementary to their appliance, rather than change their deployment model. That includes fan-out of reliable multicast and other protocols to downstream applications, and upstream data feed A/B mediation.

NICs:

With recent entrant Solarflare Communications – offering its Altera-based ApplicationOnload functionality – the marriage of 10gE I/O-accelerated network cards and FPGAs has become very much in vogue. Solarflare is hardly the first NIC manufacturer to run business logic on its cards, but with its wide use in the financial markets, its adoption of this approach adds validity to it.

Others in the NIC/FPGA space include: Accelize (Altera), AdvancedIO Systems (Altera and Xilinx), BittWare (Altera), Fiberblaze (Xilinx) and Intilop (Altera and Xilinx).

Switching It Up:

Now, with the option to run code on Arista’s network switch, systems architects have a range of choices when it comes to designing systems, and where it is best to put code.

Most likely, those looking to implement enterprise-wide functionality – e.g. market data handling, aggregated pre-trade risk – will go for an appliance or a switch, while those looking for more focused functionality – algo trading models and FIX message parsing – will look to implement that in a NIC.

But it’s early days, and it will take some time for system designs – maybe even reference architectures – to emerge. It will also be interesting to see the chip battles between Altera and Xilinx develop. Watch this exciting space for the rest of 2012!

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