Former Cisco VP gets a new job

The resurfacing of a former Cisco executive as chief executive officer of Arista Networks Inc. has one analyst speculating Cisco could acquire the 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch maker.

Menlo Park, Calif.-based Arista announced in late October Jayshree Ullal, who left San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco in May, will be taking over as CEO.

“What Jayshree brings to a startup is a very very deep understanding of networking technology,” said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of enterprise research at the Boston-based Yankee Group. “I think a lot of Cisco’s acquisitions tend to be from former Cisco executives, so if there is a proven market opportunity for this product you might see Cisco maybe acquire them back in.”

Arista, formerly known as Arastra, makes 10 Gigabit Ethernet products, including the 7148S Layer 2 to 4 switch, which has 48 ports and a one-rack-unit chassis. It also makes the Extensible Operating System (EOS), which is designed to separate networking state from the processing by updating software on a per-process basis. EOS has multiple processes that interact with a central shared state repository, dubbed Sysdb (system database).

This, Ullal said, is “where you would keep the state of all of your feature upgrades.” EOS is part of the third generation of network software, she said. “If you look at first generation, which was primarily in the 1990s, it was extremely monolithic, whether it was layer 2 or 3,” she said. “Everything was one big blob.” With its 10 Gig products, Arista is targetting research labs, video producers and financial services.

“Every advantage for trading applications is important,” Ullal said. “This is their advantage for customer service.”

Before taking over Arista, Ullal was Cisco’s senior vice-president for Cisco’s data centre, switching and services group. In 2005, Network World named her one of 50 most powerful people. She joined Cisco 15 years ago when the company acquired Crescendo Communications, of which Ullal was vice-president of marketing.

Ullal was the third senior executive to leave Cisco in 18 months. Avaya CEO Charlie Giancarlo left Cisco nearly a year ago, where he was chief development officer. Mike Volpi, senior vice president in charge of service providers and routing, left in February 2007.

“The change in management at Cisco is good,” Kerravala said. “They’re trying to become more of an IT company which requires different skills, they’re going out to different buyers and you can look at change in management as a down side to Cisco but the one thing that’s been consistent about Cisco is change. They like to make markets.” Ullal has an electrical engineering degree from San Francisco State University, plus a masters in engineering management from Santa Clara University.

She said Arista plans to focus in the future on both 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps products, though the 100-Gig products are a few years out.

“I’m very exited and I believe there is still a large amount of innovation left, especially in the real-time coupling of hosted applications.”

But Kerravala says it will be tough for Arista to sell leading-edge products in today’s economy, and tough to compete against better-established players.

“The high end networking market is already well served so unless they can come up with something that’s really unique I don’t see why we need another switch vendor,” he said.

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