Ex-Cisco SVP to Lead Andy Bechtolsheim’s Latest Switch Startup

UPDATED: Andy Bechtolsheim may be well known for co-founding Sun Microsystems, but the reality is that his list of accomplishments is much longer. Whenever there is a major infrastructure technology shift, you can bet that 53-year-old Bechtolsheim is starting a company — like Granite Systems and Kealia, for example. Neither one of them ever became a household name, but both were scooped up for millions of dollars, by Cisco Systems (s csco) and Sun (s java), respectively. Granite Systems went onto become the underpinning of Cisco’s Gigabit Ethernet switching business. For a fan of classic rock, Bechtolsheim is the tech world’s equivalent of Eric Clapton.  

In 2004, along with David Cheriton and Ken Duda, Bechtolsheim co-founded Arastra, a Menlo Park, Calif-based maker of high-performance 10 GB switches for the data center market, marking his third venture with Cheriton. Today the company announced it’s changing its name to Arista Networks and is hiring Jayshree Ullal, a 25-year veteran of the networking business, as its president and CEO.

Ullal until now has spent a substantial part of her career in senior positions at Cisco, including her most recent gig as senior V-P of the company’s data center, switching and services group. She left the San Jose, Calif.-based router and switch maker back in May. Bechtolsheim, for his part, just left Sun Micro, where he was senior V-P and chief architect, to become chairman and chief development officer at Arista. Update: Sun has emailed us to clarify that in fact Bechtolsheim is reducing his status with the company to part-time in conjunction with taking on the role as chairman and chief development officer at Arista.

Arista started shipping products in May and counts BitGravity, a content deliver network, among its customers. From what I understand, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and iCAIR Northwestern University are customers as well.

Arista is one of growing number of startups responding to the obvious (and almost urgent) need to upgrade the data center infrastructure. A sharp increase in the number of servers and devices inside the data centers — both web and enterprise — has been putting pressure on the inside-the-data center architectures. The growing popularity of cloud computing-style architectures will stress them even further.

There is a school of thought that 10Gb switches are the way to push through the bottleneck that is emerging as a consequence of relentless digitization, and Arista is very much a part of it. The company’s architecture includes an extensible operating system, a software layer that allows them to manage extremely large network infrastructures.

Arista is going after two major opportunities inside the data center. The first involves it making core switches that essentially connect large pools of servers (or racks) with one another. In this segment, it will face competition from Force 10 Networks, Cisco’s Nexus line of products, Juniper and Woven Systems.

It’s also going to make top-of-the-rack switches. Such racks can have up to 30 servers, which can also come in blade form. Here Arista will face competition from the likes of Blade Network Technologies.

Bechtolsheim and Ullal, undoubtedly rock stars in the networking world, will have their work cut out for them. I spoke to some knowledgeable people in the business and they all were quick to point out that the market at present is small — and that it will take some time to gather momentum.


Bechtolsheim’s Photo courtesy of Sun Microsystems.