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Gartner picks Cisco, Arista as data center networking leaders

Gartner's latest Magic Quadrant finds that Cisco and Arista are the data center networking leaders among nearly a dozen vendors.

Gartner picked Cisco and Arista Networks as the first networking vendors to get their act together in developing, marketing, and selling products that meet customer requirements for the modern-day data center.

The companies were the only ones named as "leaders" in the analyst firm's latest Magic Quadrant for Data Center Networking. The last report, released in 2013, didn't rank any vendors in the leaders category.

The emergence of leaders reflects a maturing market that's delivering new technology for corporate networks being transformed by data center virtualization and cloud computing.

"[Two years ago,] there was a lot of talk, hype, buzz, marketecture," Magic Quadrant co-author Andrew Lerner said. "But it was a lot of slideware, it was a lot of PowerPoint. There wasn't a lot of actual product in the market."

A number of vendors that didn't make it into the networking leaders category this year have real product, but fall short in other areas. For example, Hewlett-Packard can go "toe to toe" with any other company when it comes to technology, Lerner said. However, its channel partners fail to get networking products in front of customers as effectively as Cisco and Arista.

Cisco has concise message; Arista gets nods for OS

We see Arista, in essence, being very open and agnostic and almost acting as an arms dealer in the SDN race.
Andrew LernerMagic Quadrant for Data Center Networking author, Gartner

Cisco is "very, very consistent and concise" in pitching its flagship architecture for today's data center, Lerner said. Called Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), the software-defined networking (SDN) platform has gotten "positive feedback" from Gartner clients.

"When we talk to our clients, the Cisco story is a compelling one," Lerner said.

Arista made it to the leadership category because of the EOS operating system that runs on its switches. The OS interoperates well with third-party SDN technology, including products from VMware and Nuage Networks. EOS also plays nice with open source configuration management and network automation tools like Puppet and Chef, respectively.

"We see Arista, in essence, being very open and agnostic and almost acting as an arms dealer in the SDN race," Lerner said.

HP and five other vendors were listed as "visionaries." This means they have a strategy in line with the needs of the research firm's clients, but haven't implemented the plan as well as the market leaders. The list includes Brocade, Dell, Juniper Networks, Lenovo and VMware.

The remaining vendors in the Magic Quadrant -- Extreme Networks, Huawei, and Avaya -- are considered "niche players."

Gartner's Quadrant criteria

The Gartner report looked at how well the 11 vendors were doing in the new world of data center networking. In the past, most enterprises were content in buying closed switches and routers with proprietary software that powered networks behind a client-server model of computing.

Today's data center requires a network capable of connecting servers to smartphones, tablets and PCs. In addition, networking requirements have changed dramatically with the use of virtualization and the emergence of cloud computing. Such architectures require administrators to reconfigure networks faster than in the past.

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