This week, Arista Networks announced an expansion of its cloud-level routing solutions that extends its products to the edge. Arista has added new features to its EOS operating system to enable its products to be used as edge routers, including new features for virtual private networks (VPNs) and traffic engineering.
Arista is best known as a switching supplier, but it has been growing its routing business since 2016 when it introduced its Broadcom Jericho-based R-Series products with its Flex-Route technology. This enabled Arista to support a full merchant silicon Internet routing table.
It is important to understand that while Arista expands its routing solution, the company is not building routers. Rather, it provides routing capabilities in its R-Series switch. Arista isn’t the first vendor to try this. Ten years ago, Foundry and Force10 both built switches with carrier-grade routing, but both vendors failed in their attempts to disrupt the router’s Apple cart. There were a number of reasons for this, including market readiness, but the biggest problem was that ten years ago switch-based products didn’t have the power to replace a router. Merchant silicon has come a long way since then, making the option more viable.
The other major change in the industry that allows Arista to get into routing is the convergence of network protocols to Ethernet. Switches are great for moving Ethernet packets, but do not handle multiprotocol well, as routers do. Ethernet is now used to blur the boundaries between LAN and WAN, as merchant silicon can now provide high density Ethernet interfaces at varying speeds.
Additionally, Arista was careful to never bite more than he could chew. In 2016, it didn’t try to replace all routers, everywhere, as Foundry and Force10 tried. Version 1.0 of Arista routing targeted fairly basic use cases such as peering and Internet exchanges.
In 2018, its 2.0 routing stack was targeted at the provider’s edge, backbone, and content distribution networks. Now he is focused on winning the advantage.
Along the way, the company had to strengthen its routing capabilities. During a briefing, Jeff Raymond, vice president of EOS product and service management at Arista, told me that the company has added almost 300 routing features in the past 18 months. He noted that routing customers can still take advantage of Arista’s single-level Universal Spine-Leaf design (or spline as Arista called it), but it was beefed up with memory and table sizes. larger than the Internet’s resident routing devices require.
RELATED: CloudVision 2021 Allows Arista to Target Enterprise Wider – Kerravala
There has certainly been a demand for a switch that could route, as there is a clear economic benefit as the price per port of a switch is about a tenth of a router. In addition, the design of a switch allows it to have a much higher port density. So for the right use cases, a telecom or cloud service provider could save millions of dollars in capital costs. As strong as this value proposition is, a switch that offers routing cannot replace a router everywhere. As noted above, a switch is Ethernet-based, so any location in the network that requires multi-protocol support is best served by a router.
Arista uses the term “cloud grade” as opposed to “carrier grade” because he brings his experience with the cloud titans to create next-generation edge locations. Arista told me he had several “wins” with his approach and named Comcast, Connecticut Education Network, CDLAN, Zenlayer, and Vocus.
This release is aimed at the multi-cloud edge, metro edge, and 5G RAN, each of which is going through an architectural change that demands a simpler design and higher speeds. Among these opportunities, 5G RAN is the most interesting because it is an area where Arista’s experience with cloud providers should prove beneficial as 5G requires a native cloud architecture. In this part of the network, the traditional mobile backhaul is disaggregated as the public cloud network is merged with the RAN. The move to cloud native requires a network that scales like a cloud network with a scalable and repeatable design. Arista’s leaf thorn is perfectly suited for this use case. The metro edge has long moved away from traditional routers, as Ethernet has been the de facto standard protocol for some time.
Additional functionality for routing use cases is available now as part of Arista’s latest EOS release. The company also offers a number of form factors for different use cases. The 7800R3 and 7500R3 are modular systems up to 460TB of capacity. The 7280R3 series includes 1U and 2U form factors used to build a Universal Leaf.
It will be interesting to see how much Arista can make a dent in the businesses of the incumbent router operators. Years ago I was skeptical that Arista could extend her value proposition outside of web-scale environments, but it did a good job finding adjacencies where its operating system unique, its simplified architecture and automation capabilities can add value. Industry is unlikely to see a wholesale replacement of routers for switches that can route, but Arista is expected to have success in the areas listed above as these are areas of the network disrupted by the cloud and the Applying cloud principles to the network is a strength of Arista.
Zeus Kerravala is the Founder and Senior Analyst of ZK Research. He provides a mix of tactical advice to help clients in today’s business climate and long-term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to IT end users and network managers, providers of hardware, software and services, and the financial community looking to invest in the companies it covers. He can be contacted at [email protected], and follow it @zkerravala and on YouTube.
Industry Voices are opinion columns written by external contributors, often industry experts or analysts, who are invited to the conversation by Fierce staff. They do not represent the views of Fierce.