For a long time, networks were thought of as little more than necessary data center piping that link servers, storage and clients, running data between the various points. However, the last several years has seen significant changes in IT, with the world rapidly becoming more data-centric, more software-defined, more distributed and more mobile.
At the same time, there has been the rise of new and emerging applications and technologies, from artificial intelligence and machine learning to the cloud, data analytics, virtual and augmented reality, and the internet of things (IoT).
The growing demand for faster speeds, more bandwidth and lower latency has put the network front-and-center in the IT world. Data and applications are no longer confined to central data centers, and they need to move quickly between those data centers, the edge and multiple clouds.
The network also has undergone significant change. Networks are now increasingly virtualized, with software-defined networking (SDN), network-function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). They’ve also become more intelligent—look at intent-based networking—and the decoupling of the data plane and network functions from the underlying proprietary hardware has given rise to open switches that can run third-party operating systems and software. Cisco Systems, Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and other established vendors now offer branded gear that can run software from the likes of Cumulus Networks, Big Switch Networks and Pluribus Networks; often their own software can run on hardware from other vendors.
It also has enabled original-design manufacturers (ODMs) that make unbranded white-box switches to gain ground in the highly competitive enterprise networking space.
In today’s IT world, networks are now the foundation, the key enabling of modern computing; central to networks are switches.
Here’s a look at some of the top switch vendors in no particular order, with the list being created with the help data from Gartner, IDC, Dell’Oro Group and other sources.
Headquarters: San Jose, Calif.
Any discussion about anything networking usually has to start with Cisco. The company has been at the stop of the market for the past couple of decades, and even throughout its ongoing transformation into less of a box-maker and more of a software and solutions provider, Cisco has continued to be the dominant hardware player in the space. Its portfolio of switches bears that out. The vendor has a brought array of offerings, from its Nexus data center and cloud switches to switches for LANs, WANs, storage solutions, industrial Ethernet environments and small businesses. Cisco has become the top SD-WAN infrastructure vendor, thanks in part to its Meraki unit, and its massive Catalyst 9000 switch is the hardware foundation of its expanding intent-based networking efforts. The company has long been atop Gartner’s Magic Quadrant of data center networking leaders and, according to IDC, owned more than 54 percent of the Ethernet switch market last year and was the leader in the highly competitive 25/50/100Gb space.
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, Calif.
Juniper has a switch lineup that runs from the data center and into the cloud. It’s QFX series of high performance and density systems are designed for both data centers and telecommunications environments and fit into a wide array of deployments, including top-of-rack and end-of-row as well as access and leaf, lean spine, and core-and-spine. The company has added 400GbE capabilities with its QFX10008 and 10016 switches. The EX series of Ethernet switches provide for access, aggregation and core networking for branch, campus, data center and service provider environments, and can support everything from 1GbE to 100GbE.
Headquarters: Santa Clara, Calif.
Arista is smaller than rival Cisco, but it has made significant gains over the last several years. In the third quarter 2018, the company’s Ethernet switch revenues jumped 27.6 percent and its share grew from 5.6 percent a year earlier to 6.6 percent, according to IDC. Arista, which sits with Cisco and Juniper in the “leader” section of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, offers a range of switches that scale from 10Gb to 100Gb and support leaf and spine architectures. In addition, the company developed what it calls Spline, which collapses the leaf and spine into a single tier for high-performance, highly dense deployments, such as Ethernet storage, clouds and distributed computing. It’s Arista 7250QX Series is a switch designed for the Spline architecture.
Headquarters: San Jose, Calif.
Extreme Networks has a solid lineup of data center switches that can scale from 1Gb to 100Gb, giving organizations flexibility when connecting their systems. At the same time, the company also has put a growing focus on supplying switches for deployment outside the firewall, in particular in branch officers, in the cloud and out at the network edge—as illustrated by the launch of its Smart OmniEdge networking solution last year—which is where much of the action in these days. Those include the SLX 9540, which the company describes as a versatile data center edge switch that offers high density for data center interconnect, WAN edge and internet exchange point deployments. The CES 2000 offers edge access capabilities. Gartner has Extreme and Huawei as the only “challengers” to Cisco, Juniper and Arista in its Magic Quadrant.
Headquarters: Round Rock, Texas
Officials with Dell Technologies see the company as a one-stop shop for all things enterprise IT, and the data center networking business under Dell EMC is no different. The company offers several high-performance data center switches in its S- and Z-Series and the N-Series for its managed campus access and aggregation switches. At the same time, Dell EMC offers a series of Open Networking switches, which carry the Dell EMC brand but can run third-party network OSes and software from vendors like Cumulus, Big Switch and Pluribus (as well as Dell EMC’s own OS9 and OS10. The Open Networking switches also offer a choice of virtualization options—VMware NSX, Midokura MidoNet and Nuage Networks—and leverages the open-source ONIE (Open Network Install Environment) to enable zero-touch installation of third-party software.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise
Headquarter: Palo Alto, Calif.
HPE offers a range of data center 1-100Gb switches under its FlexFabric brand, from top-of-rack switches to fully modular core switches. In addition, through its $3 billion acquisition of Aruba Networks in 2015, HPE offers Aruba 8400 campus core and aggregation switch series aimed at the cloud, mobile and IoT environments. It includes a programmable OS and a network analytics engine. In addition, Aruba has become a key part of HPE’s edge strategy, including several switch series. Like Dell EMC, HPE’s lineup also includes open switches. The Altoline switches run third-party software from the likes of Big Switch and Pica8 and are made in partnership with ODM Accton Technology. In the third quarter 2018, HPE’s Ethernet switch revenue jumped 12 percent over the previous year, with its market share growing to 5.7 percent.
ODM white-box makers
The trend toward network virtualization, with the disaggregation of the software from the underlying gear, opened a door for smaller ODMs like Quanta, Celestica, Accton, Delta, Inventec and Foxconn to gain more ground in the data center switch space, particularly among cloud providers. The rise of SDN and NFV meant that organizations could choose to buy low-cost white boxes and put whatever networking operating system they want onto them. The open networking efforts by Dell EMC, HPE and others were meant to not only give customers more options but also to fend off the growing threat of white-box makers. According to Dell’Oro Group analysts, in 2018 while the top four cloud providers opted for white boxes for their 100Gb deployments, smaller provides and enterprises kept with the brand vendors, which meant ODMs lost ground in the market.
Headquarters: Shenzhen, China
The massive Chinese tech company is seeing momentum in its data center networking business. Gartner has it placed solidly in the “challenger” category—edging ever close to the line that would bring it into “leader” area—and IDC noted that in the third quarter 2018, Huawei’s Ethernet switch revenue grew 21.3 percent year-over-year, and its market share hit 8.6 percent. However, lawmaker worries about the company’s possible close ties to the Chinese government—which some see as posing a national security threat—has made it difficult for Huawei to make inroads in the United States as well as some other markets. Still, Huawei offers the CloudEngine 12800 series core switches, the CloudEngine 5800, 6800, 7800 and 8800 fixed access switches and CloudEngine 1800V virtual switch. It also sells a broad range of campus switches.
New H3C Group
Headquarters: Hangzhou, China
New H3C Group sits on the cusp of moving from the “niche” section of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant to the “challenger” section. The company offers eight series of data center switches and more than a dozen campus switches that range from the S7500X Next Generation Core Switch Series for cloud service data centers down to the S1200 switch, an unmanaged Gigabit switch that comes in desktop and rack-mount models for small businesses looking for basic Layer-2 connectivity.
Comparison chart to come soon.