A conversation with Jayshree Ullal CEO, Arista Networks

Ullal makes the cost/power savings case for Arista switches versus Cisco gear

I decided to reach out to a few CEOs beginning with Jayshree Ullal, CEO of Arista Networks. I appreciate that she took the time to answer my questions. I hope it provides some perspective on the market, company and the CEO herself.

Jayshree Ullal
I would be remiss if I did not first bring up the Cisco press release in which it positioned itself as the best choice for the financial trading industry, an area where Arista has made inroads. This created a heated discussion on my blog. What are your thoughts on the press release?

It is uncharacteristic for Cisco to be so targeted and competitive. I view it as validation of Arista's best of breed product and a compliment to us. Cisco is very good at reacting and has a strong dominance in classic enterprise switching. However, Cisco is having to deal with being behind in several industry disruptions. Customer buying behaviors are disruption because of cloud computing, their business and gross margin model is a disruption and there is also a technology disruption because of modern silicon and software. 

What is the state of networking OS evolution and software-defined networking and Arista's role in it?

Isn’t it strange that hardware changes every 1-2 years but the core network operating system has not seen major changes in  decades? The majority of the Internet is still powered with Cisco IOS which is 20+ years old. While tweaks or improvements have been made on modularity with Juniper’s JunOS or the introduction of a Linux based OS with Cisco NXOS - there really has not been a modern resilient open networking OS purpose built for cloud and data center environments. This is where Arista's Extensible Operating System – EOS is so powerful.

Built from the ground up based on an open Linux kernel, the fundamental advantage of EOS is enforcing a state agnostic system database (SysDB) suitable for real time operations. In EOS, the switch recovers seamlessly (as opposed to a restart or replay) from any condition causing process restart. Arista EOS is also controller friendly and can easily adapt to evolving specifications such as Openflow. Arista developed an advanced operating system that would take 5+ years and thousands of man hours to recreate. This is what drew me to the company and is the key foundation.

What are your thoughts on these independent tests? It is an "understanding" that if you pay for the test you will always win. Do you think that an independent testing center should be used by all vendors? Not paid for by vendors but by others like the customers?

Tests based on standard RFCs do not often simulate real world operating conditions but are a good baseline. Some organizations, especially those tied to universities such as E-ANTC and UNH, have a long history and a good reputation. Also, we welcome industry driven multivendor independent testing such as those conducted by NetworkWorld where no vendor has tried to skew or pay for the tests.  Pay-for-play tests are often contrived by a single vendor, do not represent real world and are ultimately discredited by any savvy customer, who will look to do their own independent analysis. Clearly I am not a big fan or advocate of pay-for-play tests.

There's been a lot written by other bloggers that your product saves money over Cisco. Can you tell us in detail how your product saves customers money over other products?

The comparison in question was between Cisco's recommended 'best practice' design of using the Nexus 7000 in the aggregation, the Nexus 5000 in the access, and the Nexus 1000v for the vSwitch. This was contrasted with the Arista 7500 in the aggregation and 7100 Series in the access and used Arista's VM Tracer to achieve physical-to-virtual integration. The cost savings came from several sources

1) Network hardware pricing

2) Network Interface Cards

3) Avoiding vendor specific SFP cables for host interconnect

4) Avoiding the required Enterprise Plus version of ESX needed for the Cisco 1000v

5) Power costs based on DOE average pricing in the US

Since this was published over a year ago pricing has changed on some components, but the overall cost savings that can still be realized by using Arista 7000 family is still significant and marked. 

Let’s talk about EOS Central, what is it and how do you think it will change the way customers look at your products and the cloud?

I am personally excited about EOS Central, as this was inspired by application networking vendors such as F5 who have taken a more application and vertical solution focus to networking than plain connectivity or models where all features must come from the vendor. It is also very appealing to our technical and engineering community of customers who want to harness the power of Arista EOS more. EOS Central, launched in May 2011, offers development tools to bridge the gap that exists today, actively sharing EOS extensions, code samples, collaborative forums and early examples of use-cases in key markets like Big Data, Virtualization, and latency analysis. 

In what ways does your products compete with other vendors? So if you could, by product, tell us which vendor/product they compete against and why you think yours are a better value.

On one hand I could say we have no competitors because we have taken such a unique vertical approach to modern cloud networking and on the other hand you could say everybody who builds a 10GbE switch is our competitor!  Both statements are true. What is clear is we are not building legacy oversubscribed networks and are really focused on the intersection of dense cloud computing, storage and networks. This problem has not been tackled properly by classic networking companies. Infiniband as a technology that tried to do so but remains niche in high-end clusters. High performance Ethernet is the mainstream multi-billion dollar market opportunity and is supporting the next generation of data centers.

Many have wondered if you will make a push into telco carrier sales to compete against Juniper, Cisco, Alcatel and others?

We are not a fit in traditional telco applications using TDM/Optical with IP as an overlay but are a natural application for new video/media and high performance hosting applications and cloud providers. Several high profile companies including the world’s largest SaaS provider, cloud providers, hosting and service providers are using Arista for such applications. They have been conducting trials for many months and are seeing significant power, footprint, scale and operational advantages.

What new verticals, segments do you see Arista moving into within the next few years?

Arista's strongest vertical to date has been financial services [particularly High Frequency Trading firms] and we continue the value the strong partnership we have here with 150+ customers in this space. We have been pleasantly surprised with the rapid acceptance of our solution in just two years. We are now making inroads in several other verticals with that same application focus including cloud providers, Web 2.0 companies, media and health/education research institutions. These are natural expansions for us.

If you had to pick one vendor who is your biggest competition and why?

I have a healthy respect for Cisco, both as my former long-time employer and their dominance in the enterprise switching market. Despite their current product deficiencies and challenges, they are a formidable competitor with long-term relationships, an army of CCIEs in their installed base, and solid customer loyalty.  

Recently I wrote on my blog from Interop Las Vegas about HP Labs and an optical backplane for switching equipment. Do you think this will be the next big thing as I do, or do you see something different coming? Something that will be a game changer?

It is great to see big companies like HP innovating and certainly optical backplanes are becoming more production worthy and coming out of the research phase. That said I think we can still push the serial copper backplane technology to greater limits and achieve terabits of backplane capacity as well. I don't see it as a game changer but as a good option in ultra high speed applications beyond 100Gb.

Let’s talk green, many companies talk about it but they really don’t do it. Can you tell us Arista is going in the green space and how customer can save money with your products?

While the power savings make an impact on the operating costs of the equipment, the main benefit most customers realize is on getting more computational capacity out of a given facility with a fixed power envelope. For instance, in a 3MW data center there is a maximum amount of compute capacity that can be deployed before you run out of power, and the costs for the facility at max power are relatively fixed.  

Everything you can do to reduce the power draw of the network and optimize airflow efficiencies increases the number of servers that can be deployed.  As an example: A 3MW Data Center can support 5000 600w servers in a perfect world, this would take 125 cabinets and we can assume that in a legacy enterprise data center design this would require 250 ToR switches and then an aggregation tier.  Sticking with current design practices we will use 3:1 oversubscription from the host ports to the uplink ports on the ToR switch (48 host ports, 16 uplink ports) and deploy a wirespeed routed backbone.

Connecting 5000 10GbE dual homed servers with Arista will take 250 7050s and 12 Arista 7500s.  The power draw of the network will be 75.6kw which will cause a reduction of 126 servers, or about 3 racks and is 2.5% of the total power available.

Max compute density with Arista is 4874 servers.

Connecting 5000 10GbE dual-homed servers with Cisco (using their best practice design guide which recommends the Cisco 5500 with FCoE and the Nexus 7000) will take 278 Nexus 5548s (each delivering 36 hosts per cabinet with 12 ports of uplink) and 26 Nexus 7018s (each delivering wirespeed 128 10GbE ports, although since this uses side-to-side airflow it takes 2 cabinets for each switch).  This network is already oversubscribed and not wirespeed at the backbone layer and actually needs a second stage of 13 Nexus 7018s to interconnect the first stage. 

Nexus 5548 = 390W

278 Nexus 5548 = 108kW

Nexus 7018 with 16x32 port 10GbE M1 Modules (needed for L3 routing) = 11kW

39 Nexus 7018s = 435kW

Total Cisco power draw for 5000 ports - 525kW, or about 17% of the overall power available and causes a reduction in server capacity of 875 servers.

Max compute density with Cisco is 4125 Servers.

To put a rational dollar figure on this if we assumed this was a public cloud deployment where every IT asset is monetized and assumed $50/VM at 20VMs per server, the monthly revenue on the two data centers is as follows:

Arista Data Center: $4.874M/Month

Cisco Data Center: $4.125M/Month

The Arista design saves enough power to add $8.98 million dollars per year to the bottom line of a cloud computing site.

Right now we are at 10gbps, moving to 40gbps and beyond. Where do you see Arista moving to and how fast? Could we see 100gbps at the switch level by 2012?

I am very bullish about 10Gbe as a mainstream transition in the data center in 2012-2014.  The 1GbE transition took 5 years and happened from 2000-2005. 10GbE has primarily been an uplink and core technology but has been moving to key horizontals such as dense storage, high end computing and virtualization. These high performance transactions demand high performance and low latency. With the advent if new multicore CPUs from Intel and AMD, I expect the integration of 10GbE and 10GBASE-T  into the server mainboard to realistically happen in 2012 onwards.  This will create a natural pull to "spine" aggregation switching of 40Gbe and 100Gbe thereafter. 

Do you see Arista adding a NAC to its product line to help with security?

NAC has had mixed reception and deployment in the wiring closet and almost a non-starter in data centers, where the concept of security is less tied to identity and more to the application. So we try to work with industry-leading security vendors to build EOS extensions and innovative firewall options with them. 

Additionally, given the push towards virtualization by natively integrating with the virtual machine platform we are able to understand what is actually connected and apply appropriate policy and segmentation/forwarding characteristics by authoritatively interconnecting with the virtualization platform.

What is the one question when meeting with potential customer that you get the most and why?

Ah, good question! The most common question since we are a young and fast growth company, I get asked is  "What is your exit strategy? Are you going to be bought?" They fear that we will be purchased by an unfriendly company. Our customers and well-wishers want us and view us as a credible viable alternative solution and want us to be independent. This is our goal as well.

Many vendors I talk to bring up customer purchasing terms, many have moved from 15-30 days to 60-90 days. Do you think this is getting out of hand or is the power in the customer hands?

I haven’t seen a big change here quite honestly. Maybe Arista purchases need to get bigger to see that!

Ipad, iphone or android?

I am a slow adopter of consumer technology ...iPhone and contemplating iPad sometime in the future.

 What kinds of songs are on your mp3 player?

Mixture of Bollywood songs, to Abba, Michael Jackson and classical music.

Being an executive, I know I have to have regular stress release. Mine is golf or my handheld satellite radio. What is yours?

Doggie walks, karaoke music, a good book, Big Bang Theory TV show, chocolate and therefore exercise combo!

Fly, drive or train; which would you take the most if you had the chance. Allow Doug [Gourlay] to fly you everywhere?

Given the time, I love train rides, and have some childhood nostalgia about that. As for Doug flying me everywhere, he has a full time job and I would need more insurance coverage! Just kidding of course ...

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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