When Arista tests the IPO waters this week, it has the potential to do something that markets haven’t seen in a long time: Draw attention to next-generation networking market as a “hot” sector.
More pre-IPO networking companies are waiting in the wings, especially a new crop of Software Defined Networking (SDN) companies. In my recent report, “SDN Revolution: A Startup Ecosystem,” I reviewed 24 SDN startups that are in pre-IPO mode. Of these companies, 10 are ranked in the “Top Ten” of IPO or acquisition potential with valuations of $100 million or more.
Arista, which is profiled in the report but not ranked on our pre-IPO because it has clearly already “made it,” has shown impressive growth and financials. The company will have one of the largest valuation of networking startups that have achieved liquidity in the past few years. While Nicira was bought by VMware in 2012 for $1.25 billion, Arista will likely beat that this week with a valuation expected to approach $3 billion.
Arista may not be a moonshot like Twitter or Facebook with their tens of billions in valuation, but its track record is impressive already and a $3 billion market capitalization is nothing to dismiss. One thing is clear: Arista, which hopes to raise more than $200 million in its public debut this week, can now be viewed as the leader in next-generation networking technology, if not SDN.
If you extend the networking world to include security-oriented such as Palo Alto Networks and FireEye, you can find other network technology companies that have done very well in going public. FireEye, which went public last year, currently trades on Nasdaq with a $4.5 billion valuation, and Palo Alto Networks, making its debut in 2012, trades at around $5.5 billion.
But those companies sell specialty security technologies, and Arista is more of a core networking box, a switch for large data center environments. That also makes it a direct competitor with Cisco Systems. Therefore, everybody will be watching to see if Arista can be the “next Cisco.”
Prior to going public, Arista had already raised almost $100 million in investment funds from its founders and debt holders, and the management turned that into a solid, growing profitable company. From 2011 and 2013 its revenue grew nearly 200% to $361.2 million, and it posted an annualized profit of $42.5 million. In the first quarter of this year, Arista’s revenue was $117.2 million, another doubling year-over-year, and its profit grew to $12.3 million for the quarter.
Venture capitalists have pumped more than $600 million into SDN startups, according to Rayno Report research, so they will be watching with the hopes that the Arista IPO can spark a bigger wave of interesting in taking companies with newer networking technologies, especially SDN, public.
Which brings us to our next debate, which might come down largely to semantics: Is Arista really an SDN company? One could argue that its own operating system, the EOS, is the software-based “secret sauce” of the company. Arista itself uses EOS in its marketing literature to position itself as an SDN company. But purists will disagree, pointing out that Arista’s business model is more similar to Cisco’s classic networking hardware model — selling hardware boxes.
As one SDN industry source told me quietly: “I think Arista is more like Cisco than it is like Nicira,” pointing out its hardware model.
It will be interesting to see what Arista does once it cashes in. As a profitable company raising more than $200 million in cash and creating billions in stock currency, it will be well-armed with both cash and stock and has the potential to make many acquisitions.
Remember, Cisco hit its growth strides in the mid-1990s making a series of strategic acquisitions with a rising stock price as currency. Arista now has the potential to do the same, and build out the SDN vision as a leader in the field.
R. Scott Raynovich is the Chief Analyst and Publisher of the Rayno Report. The Rayno Report has just published its first premium report, a 30-page overview of the SDN market entitled “SDN Revolution: And Ecosystem Report.” It is available in the Rayno Report website for $899 for a single-user license.