Tailoring networking to the cloud

Summary:The rise of faster, denser CPUs means this is the year of 10Gb Ethernet, says Jayshree Ullal, the Cisco veteran who now heads up Arista Networks

Ten-gigabit Ethernet network switch vendor Arista Networks has been something of an industry poster child since its inception five years ago. It took its time producing its first products, but is now expanding into the UK.

The company is led by chief executive Jayshree Ullal [pictured], who once headed Cisco's datacentre-networking division. Arista was set up by Ullal, along with chairman Andy Bechtolsheim, a co-founder of Sun, and chief scientist David Cheriton, also an alumnus of Sun and Cisco.

Funding comes from Bechtolsheim and Cheriton, so the company, an early 10Gb Ethernet player, has had the independence to develop technology at its own pace.

When Ullal was in London recently, ZDNet caught up with her to talk about the company's European expansion plans, the future of high-speed networking and how high-performance computing (HPC) is becoming mainstream.

Q: What brings you to London?
A: We started in the US, and our business is heavily weighted towards the US but, just as I believe that 2010 is the year of 10Gb Ethernet, I also believe 2010 is the year of our expansion in Europe. We're building channels and partners in the UK — we have seven to 10 partners across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and we've just created a UK subsidiary.

You play heavily in the cloud-computing market. Where is the cloud-computing trend going?
You have to look at what happened to processors. They went from simple CPUs that got faster but also became multicore devices with tremendous capacity. Two years ago, 20 percent of servers in the datacentre were [HPC], and the rest were enterprise. Now that ratio is 50:50.

[That change in ratio] is because virtualisation has reduced the number of servers you need. But also, multicore web-facing applications have grown. So cloud computing is more about web-facing applications needing dense computing and multicore capabilities.

To do cloud computing well, you need a good networking infrastructure. Some networking vendors, including my former employer, have taken the view that whatever works in the enterprise world can be brought to the cloud world.

This is where Arista's approach diverges. Instead of focusing first on building a 10Gb switch, we focused on building a purpose-built architecture on which you can then build a 10Gb switch. We spent the better part of four or five years building the software, the Extensible Operating System.

We probably didn't entirely know what we were designing for at the time, but we did know there were five properties of cloud computing that we had to tailor for networking: scale, low latency, high resilience, extensibility and openness, which allows you to run tools on the switch rather than taking up CPU on the server. All these issues are unique to cloud.

You have to look at the key applications that drive the traffic, which is where you see the bifurcation between the classic 1Gb datacentre and a more performance-intensive datacentre. For example, traffic between client and server used to be 80:20 server to client, but now it's an equal distribution.

As a result, we think 10Gb is a healthy market, with [market analysts] Dell'Oro and IDC reports telling you there were 10 million ports sold in 2009, going to 13 million in three years.

You say this is the year of 10Gb. Why?
It's to do with the rise of faster, denser CPUs and the availability of cost-effective controllers and [network interface controllers]: a 10Gb ecosystem. And then there are...

Topics: Networking


Manek Dubash is an analyst and journalist with over 30 years experience. Focused on business technology, he observes and comments on enterprise infrastructure issues for a range of industry-influential websites. His work has appeared in national newspapers as well as specialist technology journals and websites. He has also held senior pos... Full Bio

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