A high-powered Cisco exec makes the switch to a network start-up

Her new company, Arista, will compete with her old one by offering a 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch at a fraction of Cisco's price

After leaving a top executive post at Cisco Systems Inc., where she had responsibility for $10 billion in annual revenue, Jayshree Ullal now oversees a start-up company making powerful network switches for cloud computing.

Her new job as CEO of Arista Networks Inc., formerly known as Arastra, in Menlo Park, Calif., will give her a chance to work "hip and joint" with industry visionary Andreas Bechtolsheim, her friend of 20 years and co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc. Bechtolsheim is the new chairman and chief development officer at Arista. Both were named to their positions on Oct. 23.

Bechtolsheim and David Cherton, Arista's chief scientist and a Stanford University professor, are the sole investors in Arista, and Ullal said she will work with both men as the company's board,. So far, there are fewer than 50 employees, with 80% of them engineers.

Jayshree Ullal
Jayshree Ullal left a high-level job at Cisco to become CEO of start-up Arista Networks.

While most observers would call Arista a start-up, it has been operating quietly for four years and began shipping 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches for large data centers in May. Arista's switches operate on what the company calls the Extensible Operating System, which offers self-healing for potential failures and gives users the ability to make upgrades without taking the switches out of service.

"We've been in stealth mode, but there's no hiding now," Ullal said in an interview. "I have my work cut out for me."

Now that the company has released its first products, Ullal said her role is "about growing it from childhood to the adult stage. Building the best technology is one aspect, but getting reach to the customer and going to market is ... entirely different."

An industry veteran of 25 years, Ullal has dazzled industry groups that track progress for women in IT-related careers. During her tenure, Cisco's revenue grew from $1 billion to $40 billion, the company sold 1 million 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports, and her teams generated 1,500 patents. She was named by Newsweek among the "Women to Watch in 2001" and by Network World as one of the "50 Most Powerful People" in 2005. Ullal holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and a master of science degree in engineering management. When she left, Ullal was senior vice president of Cisco's Data Center, Switching and Services Group.

Ullal talks almost as fast as Cisco CEO John Chambers, whom she still admires even as Arista trains its guns on the market leader.

"I'll always have a special place in my heart for Cisco, since I spent my growth years there," she said. "My 15 years there were like 100-plus years, something we all said, but I was very comfortable there. I think John Chambers and I would both say we will always be friends, even though from a business standpoint, we may be at a different place right now."

No doubt. One major selling point Ullal makes about Arista is how its switches will sell for much less than the competition, with Cisco almost always considered the highest-priced alternative.

"Look at Cisco's 10 Gig products, with prices ranging from $2,000 to probably $10,000 per port," she said. "Our lower price per port ... is $500 and could go to $1,500 per port with long-reach fiber."

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