CRN Exclusive: HPE Takes Direct Aim At Cisco With Arista Software-Defined Partnership, Sales Pact

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is turning up the heat on rival Cisco Systems with a strategic software-defined infrastructure partnership and sales pact with network switching innovator Arista Networks.

Antonio Neri, executive vice president and general manager of HPE's Enterprise Group, which has been grabbing share from Cisco with its Aruba wireless networking portfolio, is scheduled to disclose the partnership Tuesday morning before more than 1,000 partners on the first day of HPE's Global Partner Conference.

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Under the terms of the pact, Arista will be HPE's "preferred networking partner" in data center networking as an infrastructure foundation for HPE's software-defined infrastructure offerings.

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HPE, which already has a converged architecture agreement with Arista, is also offering solution providers and customers the ability to buy the Arista network switching products directly from HPE starting Nov. 7.

"Together, HPE and Arista are uniquely positioned to help organizations transition to a software-defined data center through innovations that enable network automation," said HPE Vice President and General Manager of Networking Dominic Wilde in a blog post announcing the deal. "Augmenting our HPE Data Center Infrastructure Group (DCIG) portfolio with Arista networking enables HPE to offer highly differentiated solutions that create impactful business outcomes for our customers."

Wilde said that HPE and Arista "share a common vision" around the need to deliver secure hybrid IT solutions built on industry-leading software-defined infrastructure.

"This partnership will provide our customers with best-of-breed networking solutions that are superior to legacy networking solutions and that are complementary to our HPE DCIG solutions, including HPE compute, storage, virtualization and cloud offerings," wrote Wilde in the blog post.

Adding Arista to the current HPE FlexFabric and Altoline product lines will expand HPE's ability to "address a wider variety of data center networking customer use cases and requirements," added Wilde.

The partnership opens the door for Arista to use HPE's muscle to gain network switching share even as Cisco is in the midst of a long-running, heated patent infringement legal battle aimed at getting Arista to stop selling its products in the U.S.

In June, the International Trade Commission ruled that Arista networking switches infringed on three of the five patents cited in a lawsuit filed by Cisco in December 2014, recommending a ban on selling and importing several Arista products.

Cisco is pushing for the halt of Arista products found with infringing technology while Arista says it has since released new versions with design-arounds to address features the International Trade Commission ruled were infringed upon.

Although Cisco leads the data center networking market, it lost share in 2015, with revenue share declining from 62.1 percent to 60.7 percent and shipment share falling from 46.9 percent to 44.2 percent, according to research firm Gartner.

Arista, meanwhile, continues to be one of the fastest-growing vendors in the data center, with product revenue growth of more than 40 percent in 2015 year over year.

HPE has been on a networking tear since acquiring wireless superstar Aruba Networks last year. HPE's networking business powered by Aruba is up 22 percent in the first nine months of its fiscal year ended July 31 to $2.37 billion compared with $1.94 billion in the same period one year ago.

For Arista’s recent second fiscal quarter, which ended June 30, the company reported a 37 percent increase in sales to $269 million. The company currently has more than 3,700 customers.

For Cisco’s fourth fiscal quarter ended July 30, its switching business grew 2 percent year over year to $3.79 billion. In its third fiscal quarter, however, Cisco reported a 3 percent year-over-year drop in switching sales to $3.45 billion.

MARK HARANAS contributed to this story.