Speaking at the recent Deutsche Bank Technology Conference, Cisco Enterprise Networking GM Scott Harrell said Arista Networks is most familiar with the data center environment, and Cisco has an advantage in the wide area network (WAN) and wireless LAN. “The data center is all about the application, and that’s who you worship in the data center,” he said, according to a transcript of the conversation. “In the campus, in the branch, it’s all about the user and the device, and how do I provide the best experience. It has to be done across wired and wireless.”
As the head of Cisco’s enterprise networking group, Harrell oversees wireless and wired products for the campus and branch.
In May, Arista announced the Arista 7300X3 and 7050X3 Campus Spline high performance Ethernet platforms, signaling its entrance into campus and branch networking. The company said it aims to help enterprise customers extend their data center networking practices to their campus networks.
And then in August, Arista said it was buying Mojo Networks, which does cloud-managed WiFi, or what it calls “Cognitive WiFi.” This will be Arista’s first acquisition.
Harrell said, “Wireless is extremely hard. It’s a discipline to itself. And if you’re going to play in the campus and branch, you’ve got to be an expert. I think we have an extremely strong hand when we look at competing against somebody like Arista in the campus and branch.”
Cisco’s wireless portfolio includes its Aironet line, its Meraki products, and its Mobility Express.
WiFi has become critical to businesses and “people can’t have downtime anymore,” said Harrell. “The network is critical to what you do. You think about distributors who actually have huge warehouses now where the robots are going out and picking packages. Well for them, they need the equivalent of service-provider reliability.”
He said historically WiFi was just best-effort connectivity. But now, if WiFi goes down, the distributor in the above example can’t deliver packages. And that’s costly.
In June, Cisco said it was buying July Systems to boost its enterprise WiFi platform with indoor location services capabilities. The technology optimizes the end user’s experience, but it also provides data about visitor behavior. And that customer insight can be used by businesses.
“What that was really about is how do I get more business value out of the WiFi infrastructure,” said Harrell. “If you think about an access point now, it’s no longer just about connectivity, it is the sensor. And we are building every generation of WiFi with that in mind going forward.”
Although Harrell strikes a confident note about Cisco’s competitive stance in the campus and branch, he doesn’t minimize the threat from Arista.
“They have customers that they can leverage,” he said. “But I think it’s a much different story than what happened when they entered some of the other spaces in or around the datacenter. And so we’ll see. I’m going to keep watching like a hawk, you can be guaranteed about that. But I do think we’re on very, very strong footing as we look forward versus the competitive environment there.”