Earlier this week, Arista Networks announced its first chassis switch, the Arista 7500, a modular 10-GbE box that the company says provides greater price-performance, higher port density, and better energy efficiency than competing products from Cisco, Extreme Networks, and others.
As you’d expect from a company teeming with savvy industry veterans, the product announcement was executed with exceptional aplomb, drawing press and analyst coverage that was extensive and, for the past, favorable. The product’s data sheet is impressive, and Arista’s marketing claims regarding the switch’s performance metrics and specifications are supported by benchmark tests conducted by EANTC.
Arista’s flagship switch, the 7500 will have to live up to its considerable promise. Self-funded by the company’s accomplished and illustrious founders, whom I have written about at length previously, Arista needs to grow its customer base and to continue to scale its revenue if it is to justify an eye-popping IPO or similarly majestic strategic exit. One of those outcomes must be the end game, because the principals at Arista would not be content with half measures.
According to CEO Jayshree Ullal, the company has 300 customers in more than 25 countries. As reported by HPCwire, about 30 percent of Arista’s customers are financial institutions involved in high-frequency trading. Other customers can be found in the oil-and-gas industry, universities, the US government (energy and defense), Web 2.0 data centers, and at hosting/cloud-computing providers.
The first customers for the 7500 are said to include the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the San Diego Super Computer Center (SDSC), and an unnamed U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratory.
If the the performance of 10-GbE chip vendors is a reliable barometer, the 10-GbE switching space has yet to fire on all cylinders. That could change, particularly as the industry shifts from the client-server, corporate-IT model to one emphasizing the merits of virtualization and cloud computing. Arista, from the hardware design of its products to the EOS network operating system that powers them, is purpose built to capitalize on the transition to cloud computing.
What Arista is doing today is analogous to what Cisco did in the early days of enterprise switching. One can perceive essentially the same strategic blueprint, marketing game plan, and emphasis on a few key points of competitive differentiation that Cisco exploited successfully back in the 1990s. But Cisco is not as nimble now as it was then, and Arista is counting on Cisco to demonstrate battleship-slow agility in responding to shifting market dynamics, changing technical requirements, and looming competitive threats.
Cisco, of course, has a lot distractions, chasing countless market adjacencies horizontally, vertically, and geographically.
Arista has bought the right groceries, is working from a proven recipe, and has star chefs in its kitchen. If customers buy what it’s serving, the company will be well on the way to achieving its goals.