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This syndicated post originally appeared at Network World Zeus Kerravala.

Arista’s EOS now runs in a container to support a broader range
of ways to purchase and deploy the network operating system

The network industry is rarely kind to new entrants, as buyers typically have their favorite vendors and seldom give a passing look to someone new. Names like Woven Networks and Consentry come and go while the tried and true live on. One vendor that has bucked this trend—started fast and stayed fast—is Arista Networks.

How has Arista avoided the fate of so many before them? One reason is that it’s able to keep ahead of the innovation curve because of the flexible architecture of its operating system, EOS. The flexibility of its software has also enabled Arista to adopt new silicon faster than the competition without having to build entirely new platforms.

This week, Arista announced that EOS now runs in a container to support a broader range of ways to purchase and deploy the network operating system. One of Arista’s core principals is that it follows industry standards when possible and cEOS is no different, as it uses the standardized container DevOps model to enable the operating system and agents to run in virtual machines, containers and on third-party, “white box” switches.

One of the more interesting elements of this announcement is that Arista was able to easily decouple the software from vendor-provided hardware, so customers can leverage whatever white box switch or server they want.

Extending the DevOps process to the network

The “low-hanging fruit” for cEOS is for web-scale companies to extend the DevOps process and microservice architecture all the way down to the network to support complex workflows at massive scale. Containers are used when companies need to rapidly spin up and spin down lightweight workloads for design, modeling and validation in the cloud.  With cEOS, network services can be executed as just another container and run containerized applications such as automation and monitoring tools on the same platform.

Organizations that embrace DevOps use a continuous development model, but it’s hard to make the jump from development to production without uniformity across both environments. Cloud operators that are developing and testing new and differentiated services use containers for development, but if that’s not consistent with the production ecosystem, unforeseen problems may occur. Today, containers are used to run the entire “stack” except the network. Organizations now have the ability to run Arista’s proven and robust network operating system everywhere.

The web-scale companies are currently trying to automate and orchestrate everything in their environments. In massively scaled data centers where there are hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of containers, everything must be automatable, agile and software-driven to scale cost effectively. Arista has evolved its platform to align with this vision, which is rapidly becoming the norm with cloud providers.

One of the challenges of running a generic OS on a white box is that the network platform lacks many of the advanced capabilities of vendor-provided hardware. A highly technical organization with hundreds of network engineers may be able to write their own features and drivers, but there’s typically a big gap between the proven platform and generic system.

The below chart shows the differences between a generic OS on white box, cEOS on commodity hardware and EOS on Arista hardware. The latter two options are very close to one another. The Arista turnkey solution can be used when performance and reliability are the most important criteria, and cEOS can be used on any hardware when agility and the ability to orchestrate are most critical.

The immediate appeal of containerized Arista will come from the massive, web-scale companies. But I believe that soon large enterprises that embrace DevOps and want to create uniformity across development and production will look to run network services in containers, and they will prefer something like cEOS instead of going through the cost and time of writing their own network operating system.

The initial release of cEOS is being supported by several ecosystem partners, including Broadcom, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Microsoft Azure Networking. If you want to check it out for yourself, Arista cEOS will be running on Microsoft SONiC (Software for Open Networking in the Cloud) at the Open Compute Project Summit in Santa Clara this week.

Since it’s inception, Arista has touted its prowess in software as its key differentiator, and it has enabled the company to come out of nowhere and become a billion-dollar revenue company. Now it’s enabling it to boldly go where no mainstream network vendor has gone before.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.

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