Thursday, October 23, 2008

Billionaire Sun Founder Andy Bechtolsheim leaves to join Arista Networks

"MENLO PARK, Calif. — Andreas von Bechtolsheim, a brilliant billionaire who has created some of the best-selling computer systems in the industry, is resigning as chief architect of Sun Microsystems to focus on a start-up that is challenging another industry giant, Cisco Systems"

"Mr. Bechtolsheim’s new company, Arista Networks, has built an ultra-fast network switch that costs one-tenth the price of similar products from Cisco. The hardware, which has already been purchased in small quantities by government labs, universities and Internet start-ups, is aimed squarely at data-oriented organizations like Google that need to wring as much speed as possible from their computing centers.

While a number of companies sell competing gear, the pedigree of Arista’s management and its modular, easy-to-update software have given the four-year-old firm instant credibility in Silicon Valley.

Mr. Bechtolsheim, who will serve as chairman and chief development officer of Arista, co-founded Sun and invented its first product, a high-powered desktop computer known as a workstation. He went on to start two other companies before returning to Sun four years ago and overhauling its product line.

Arista — known as Arastra until it changed its name this week — is expected to announce on Thursday that it has recruited Jayshree Ullal as chief executive. Ms. Ullal left Cisco in May after leading the company’s $10 billion corporate switch business. In addition, the company will name a Stanford University professor, David R. Cheriton, as its chief scientist. Mr. Bechtolsheim and Mr. Cheriton are the sole investors in Arista, and they are known in Silicon Valley as men with a golden touch.

In 1996, Cisco acquired a company they started, Granite Systems, for $220 million, and they helped Cisco turn the technology into top-selling products. They formed another start-up, Kealia, to make computer servers, and sold that company to Sun in 2004. Mr. Bechtolsheim remained with Sun and worked on some of its switching products while developing Arista as a side project.

Mr. Bechtolsheim and Mr. Cheriton were also early investors in Google and VMware and became billionaires when those companies turned into big successes.

With Arista, the pair sought to develop products that took advantage of some of the sophisticated software concepts Mr. Cheriton has explored as an academic. They decided to focus on switches that shuttle Internet traffic using the 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard, which is many times faster than the Gigabit Ethernet standard that dominates data centers today.

Switches are the most common hardware used to funnel information between computing systems in a network. The key to Arista’s switches is the structure of the software that manages them.

A typical switch from Cisco is rich in features, but has up to 20 million lines of software code and may run on relatively slow processors. Arista breaks all of the major and minor tasks into their own modules that can be updated individually and uses more powerful chips to run it all.

Mr. Bechtolsheim said the design would let Arista make quick changes to products — even while they were running — and would also open an interface for customers to more easily add their own features."

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