Arista CEO on the Past and Future of Switching

Jayshree Ullal recounts her days at Crescendo Communications, which was acquired by Cisco in 1993, and how the networking world is a very different place in 2016.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Sep 16, 2016
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Speaking at the CloudFlare Internet Summit on September 15, Arista Networks CEO Jayshree Ullal detailed the challenges of networking in 1993 and in 2016.

1993 was the year that Cisco Systems made its first acquisition, which was Crescendo Communications, where Ullal was the VP of Marketing. Ullal explained that Crescendo's goal was to to drive amazing bandwidth with Ethernet switches. She went on to help lead Cisco's switching efforts for the next 15 years, growing a business from almost nothing to more than $10 billion a year.

While Ethernet switching is commonplace today, it was a novel idea in 1993. Ullal recounted one of her first customer visits to a large financial services organization in New York. She said the meeting was challenging, with the customer berating her about the limits of switching. For each issue the customer brought up, she provided a counterpoint, but overall she left the meeting feeling like it was a failure. She noted that her salesperson came up to her after the meeting and said it was in fact the best meeting he had ever had with the client. As it turns out, that particular institution ended up becoming a very large client for Crescendo and Cisco.

"Most human beings want facts and interaction," Ullal said. "They don't want to be sold to. They want a discussion."

Part of the reason Ullal ended up leaving Cisco after 15 years to join Arista was her own belief that the network business needed to move at a faster pace. Looking at the big trends for the next three to five years, she noted that more so than ever before, Ethernet will be everywhere.

While historically in enterprise networks there have been multiple technologies, including Infiniband and Fibre Channel, Ullal's view is that everything is now converging onto Ethernet. Convergence is also coming to define networking equipment itself. She noted that today most networks are built as silos, with data center, campus and core networks. All those locations are known as PINS - or places in the network.

"We see the universal cloud network, where the fundamental essence and building blocks are the same," Ullal said. "The collapse of PINs is a very powerful convergence for networking and a huge advantage for operational savings and cost."

Ullal also expects the line between switches and routers to continue to blur. Historically, routers and switches have served different market needs, but in Ullal's view, it doesn't have to be that way.

"Why can't a router be a switch and why can't a switch be a router? It's not a technical problem," Ullal said. "It's a legacy or old habit problem, so we really see switching and routing coming together."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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