Optical/IP Networks

Arista Grows Up, Pumps Iron

Arista Networks Inc. wants to be the next Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR).

That is, the company wants to muscle in on Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) in the data center market, just as Juniper did in the telco router market.

And its first real test starts now. After picking up more than 300 customers for its small, top-of-rack switches, Arista is trotting out the big iron: the Arista 7500, a 10-Tbit/s switch line being launched this week.

The 7500 is generally available now, but two revenue-generating customers have had it in operation for five months, says Douglas Gourlay, Arista's cultured vice president of marketing. "We didn't want this to be the Macbeth launch, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," he says.

It's the biggest salvo yet from the startup founded by Sun Microsystems founder Andy Bechtolsheim and run by former Cisco executive Jayshree Ullal. (See Ullal Lands in the Cloud.)

And while Arista claims to be attracting customers with the benefits of modern chips and a new operating system, its achievements might have just as much to do with the names behind the company.

Arista is claiming double- and triple-digit sales increases per quarter, but then again, it's only been shipping gear since late 2008. Still, there's no question Arista has generated buzz.

"The way you would evaluate a company this young is to look at the interest around them -- and I get a lot of questions about them," says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with Yankee Group Research Inc.

With its star power, the privately funded, VC-less startup was able to do things in reverse. Most switch/router startups introduce big-iron products first, to prove that the architecture works on a big scale. But building and shipping those prototypes eats up money in the millions of dollars, Gourlay says, as potential customers try the system in labs.

Arista started small, with pizza box (1 rack-unit), top-of-rack switches. They were relatively cheap to build and ship, and Arista claimed some noteworthy figures for high density and low latency. (See Arista Counts 10GEs.)

But Arista also got access to potential customers that a typical startup wouldn't enjoy, Gourlay admits.

And now that its small switches are deployed, Arista is bringing out the 7500 to aggregate them -- "bringing the product out in line with when the customers start to feel the pain of not having a cost-effective aggregation platform at that density," says Gourlay.

So far, the plan has worked. Every 7500 that's shipped has been for revenue, Gourlay says.

The data sheet has some eye-catching numbers, if nothing else. The 7500 has switching and per-slot capacity of about 10.3 Tbit/s. In terms of interfaces, the box starts out with a maximum of 384 10-Gbit/s ports for what might be called a 7.68-Tbit/s capacity; a demo at Interop will show the box running fully packed.

That capacity comes in one-fourth of an equipment rack and eats up 13.2 Watts per port, Arista claims.

Inspired by Juniper
Arista started out to build, not switches, but a new network operating system, one that would identically run on anybody's chips. It was meant as a Linux-based antidote to the numerous versions of IOS that Cisco runs on different product lines. Even Juniper, whose tight rein on JunOS serves as a model for Arista's software roadmap, isn't delivering exactly the same code to all JunOS boxes, notes Gourlay.

In a move reflecting Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN)'s chip-to-systems development, Arista decided in 2007 that the best way to bring the OS to market would be to build the system that used it. The company did more than take advantage of its operating system -- it took advantage of off-the-shelf chips and a backplane built from scratch, coming up with designs it says are more compact and less power-hungry than bigger companies'.

"Juniper had its growth when the largest routing incumbent had its eye off the routing ball and was growing the switching business," Gourlay says. "Right now, with disruption to their partnerships with a move into the server business, and chasing 40 or 50 market adjacencies with a lack of unity of demand, I think we end up in a position to say there's an opportunity." (Hint: He's talking about Cisco.)

In addition to Cisco, Arista will be battling data-center-minded companies such as Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), and Force10 Networks Inc. Router and switch vendors Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) could be considered competitors, too.

Naturally, the established data-center camp isn't willing to concede to Arista yet, especially considering the company is just starting to ship large switches.

"They might have a short-term competitive advantage on density, but we wouldn't expect that to last too long, especially using merchant silicon as they do," says Kevin Wade, senior director of marketing at Force10. "Historically it was always back and forth with Force10 and Foundry [now owned by Brocade], which we survived successfully. If there's someone else throwing their hat into the ring, I'd say I'm not concerned."

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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