Catching Up with Arista Networks

Way back in September of 2006, I wrote a post about Andy Bechtolsheim leaving Sun for a startup.

Well, Bechtolsheim had joined a startup company, though he’s never officially left Sun. Even now, you can still find his profile on the Sun (perhaps soon to be Oracle) website. Before news of the Oracle takeover, he was said to apportion a day per week at Sun, spending the rest of his time with his new company.

That company would be 10-Gigabit Ethernet switch vendor Arista Networks (nee Arastra Networks), founded originally in 2004 by Bechtolsheim, David Cheriton, and Ken Duda. Bechtolsheim presumably was working nearly full time at Sun while the other gentlemen held the fort for a couple years, designing and building the startup company’s first products.

In the autumn of 2008, Jayshree Ullal came aboard as the Arista’s president and CEO. Ullal is a 25-plus-year veteran of the networking industry, having worked at Crescendo Communications, Cisco System’s first acquisition and the source of its money-spinning Catalyst family of switches, before advancing through a series of increasingly senior roles within Cisco. Immediately before she joined Arista, Ullal served as senior vice president of Cisco’s data center, switching, and services group.

Meanwhile, Bechtolsheim, Cheriton,and Duda are not without illustrious accomplishments.

Bechtolsheim was a co-founder of Sun. He left Sun to found Granite Systems, a pioneering Gigabit-Ethernet switch vendor. In 1996, Cisco acquired Granite, of which Bechtolsheim owned about 60 percent, for $220 million. (At Cisco, Ullal was involved in the acquistion.)

Somehow spurning the urge to retire in a tropical hideaway with the riches he had accrued from his successes at Sun and Granite, Bechtolsheim became vice President and general manager of Cisco’s Gigabit Systems Business Unit. He left Cisco late in 2003 to join Kealia, Inc., a vendor of high-performance, AMD Opteron-based servers acquired by Sun in 2004.

Reputed to be a billionaire — no mean feat in itself — Cheriton co-founded Granite Systems. After working for a time at Cisco, he became a co-founder of Kealia in 2001. As such, their collaboration at Arista represents the third time Cheriton and Bechtolsheim have joined forces.

They have another connection: Bechtolsheim and Cheriton were two of the first investors in Google and early investors in VMWare.

For his part, Duda was a senior engineer and a significant contributor at Granite Systems and Cisco Systems. He and Cheriton have a long working relationship.

So, a veritable all-star team has been assembled at Arista Networks. It’s a cast of characters that has enjoyed a string of stunning technological and business successes. They’re rich as Croesus, too.

That explains why the company has been privately funded from the seemingly bottomless pockets of its founders, who intend to finance it through to IPO (do those still happen?).

It’s established, then, that Arista has talent and money. It also has a proven formula for success, one that Ullal knows well from her time running Cisco’s switch business.

The Catalyst switch family came to dominate enterprise switching on the strength of a solid switch architecture, a software secret sauce (Cisco IOS) that differentiated it from competing products, and a compelling marketing message that emphasized a qualitative differentiation that extended well beyond ticky-tacky spreadsheet-based comparisons of “speeds and feeds.” Oh, and it also helped that Cisco had the industry’s largest and most pervasive sales force, with a Batman-and-Robin combination of account managers and sales engineers relentlessly pursuing every account that mattered.

Ullal has put together the right formula for success, but she’s missing the sales force, To her credit and that of her colleagues, they’re scrambling to build a channel to serve their nascent market, trying hard to get to all the pertinent account opportunities.

Despite a recession-related setback at the end of 2008 and 2009, the market for Gigabit Ethernet switching is expected to surge with the proliferation of cloud computing and virtualized data centers.

Arista is not without competition, though. Cisco and Juniper are the big players, respectively, with Force10 Networks, Extreme Networks, and Blade Network Technologies (BNT) also in the mix. One vendor Arista won’t have to worry about is Woven Networks, which closed its doors earlier this year.

That’s still a big field for a recession-hammered market inclined to defer upgrades as long as possible. Nonetheless, Arista has hit the streets with an impressive price-performance edge over the major players and a technology advantage over most of the smaller fry. Overall, Arista seems well positioned to survive a shakeout, if not to rule the roost.

What troubles me about the company — and it’s a relatively minor cavil — is that it seems to have a divided market focus. Although the company says its all about the trademarked term “cloud networking,” which denotes the next-generation networking required for data-center cloud computing, its focus seems to vacillate between high-performance computing — which, for the most part, is known and limited market quantity — and the untapped promise of cloud computing.

Finally, with all the obvious links that Arista has to Google, why hasn’t the latter shown up on its customer list? Maybe that announcement will be forthcoming at a later date.

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2 responses to “Catching Up with Arista Networks

  1. “Despite a recession-related setback at the end of 2008 and 20009, the market for Gigabit Ethernet switching is expected to surge with the proliferation of cloud computing and virtualized data centers. ”

    Well, if the recesion was only in 2008 and will be on after 18001 years I am glad :D

    Please correct 20009 in 2009 :D

  2. Thanks for the catch, Sandu. I appreciate it.

    Let’s hope the downturn doesn’t persist for thousands of years.

    Brad

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