Challenge The Status Quo To Build Best Networks

by Preeti S    Dec 17, 2015

Jayshree Ullal

With cloud computing and big data becoming the enterprise norms, network is the vital part of infrastructure building. Arista Networks, a cloud computing company, aims at being a thought-leader and pioneer in networking. To make that happen, the company is ensuring it is laser focused and ahead of the curve. Arista went public in 2014 and analysts are projecting it to be a billion dollar company next year.

Company’s president and CEO Jayshree Ullal, who wants to cloudify every enterprise, was recognized as the EY US Entrepreneur Of The Year in 2015. She is also among Forbes’ most influential people in the networking industry today.

Ullal, who exemplifies professionalism and passion, quit Cisco in 2008 after 15 years in the company to join Arista Networks. For her, leaving Cisco was the most difficult moment, but she knew it was the right decision. 

In a face-to-face conversation with CXOToday, she spoke about Arista’s growth, cloud market, customer strategies, the role of the CIO and more.

Excerpts

Arista Networks was formed in 2004, what are the key lessons the company has learnt in the past decade?

Jayshree: We got inspired by three companies—Google, Amazon and Apple. Google put up an RFP for over 10,000 servers which nobody could do. Then they had their own engineers to do it. We felt that is what the cloud market is. Amazon changed the business model and showed IT doesn’t have to be done in-house and Apple, for its simplicity.

There are companies that outnumber us in quantity, so we have got to make sure we have a laser sharp focus on quality and talent. The best lesson is: Offer the right disruption, then decide what you are NOT, don’t just decide what you are.

In view of the changing technology landscape, what is the company’s roadmap for the next 1-5 years?

Jayshree: Going forward, we want to be a thought-leader and pioneer in networking.

Before Arista Networks went public in 2014, the revenues were $380 mn and analysts project it to reach one billion next year. With growth comes growing pains. We want to grow with responsibility.

We have a large responsibility of not only making ourselves better, but also making better the way we interact with other. The programmability is important. We want to do it in a more open fashion. There is a need for standard platform, scalability, resilience and high availability, level of convergence and openness.

How different is your partner strategy?

Jayshree: Our partner strategy is customized. Unlike other companies which inter-operate with customers, we inertly program them at the control level, management level and data plane level.

Does Arista believe in external acquisitions?

Jayshree: The biggest advantage of an acquisition is you get a new technology, but the disadvantage is that you still have to nurture and grow it. The acquisition is interesting but the impact of it is more important.

For us, the only reason to go for external acquisitions would be if it is something that we are not doing and that would give some additional offerings in the market.

Also read: The future of Cloud is hybrid

Which are the major factors defining the cloud market today?

Jayshree: When we started we had to wait for the cloud to happen. What is changing now is that there are massive amounts of workloads, workflows and work streams. You are consumerising the enterprise and enterprising the consumer. There are no hard walls between the two. First you must recognize which are the productive apps. Then think about making them agile.  

Enterprise upgrade is different from a cloud upgrade. In cloud, if something is going to fail, it will fail fast and recover fast. That openness of programmability is important.

Also read: Networking industry to accelerate in 2015

What should organizations know about building the best network system?

Jayshree: The best way to build a network is to layer it. Today, the biggest challenge is not technology but the old habits and old leadership. You need to challenge the status quo. If you are open minded, you will find ways to get there.

With everything being defined by automation, what is your advice to CIOs?

Jayshree: The CIOs must question the relevance of their job, as everything is changing– applications, workloads, networks, etc.  It should start with a vision. It’s easier for them to build on cloud. They need to identify if they have a greenfield, brownfield or legacy. Let legacy run its course and then they figure out how to converge it.

Today’s CIO is a cost centre. The CIO of tomorrow needs to be productive. They must enable the business to be more productive and be prepared for change. Along with technology, they have to understand the intuition and the way to roadmap technology.

The best CIOs are the ones who can match their technology experience to the new world.  The CIO must be a change agent and CEO must support the risk.

What is your greatest fear as a CEO?

Jayshree: Losing the culture. I want every individual to have the same influence of an entrepreneur as they were. People say that’s not possible, but it is. One of the things that we don’t have is layers of management. We believe in self-management. We have leadership to guide them, but we are open for ideas.

What has been the most difficult moment in your career?

Jayshree: The decision to leave Cisco. It is easy to leave a company if you don’t enjoy work or culture, but that wasn’t the case for me. I made a conscious decision after I asked myself: “Do I want to retire in Cisco?” That thought was frightening. I didn’t know what I would do, but I knew I don’t want to end my life in Cisco though my prime years were there.

How do you define success?

Jayshree: Success is finding your dream, voice and passion and then making an impact. It could be in family, professional life, in a hobby. If doesn’t have to be money, name, fame, but it has to be you-central.  I want to be recognised for the person I am and the value I create in this world.