Gartner Magic Quadrant: Who's Leading The Data Center Networking Market?

Who Is Who In Data Center Networking

Through emerging innovations like software-defined networking (SDN) and disaggregation switching, networking in the data center is evolving rapidly. After more than 15 years of architectural stability, research firm Gartner finds in its 2015 Magic Quadrant for Data Center Networking report, data center requirements are changing quickly.

Unlike in the past, vendor differentiation is shifting toward software -- including management, automation and orchestration -- compared with hardware.

Gartner Research Director Andrew Lerner, who co-wrote the report, explained the study's key findings to CRN.

Although many players remain the same compared with 2014, positions inside the quadrant have changed dramatically, with Arista Networks becoming a Leader and Dell upgrading to a Visionary. Here, what you need to know about the top data center networking players in 2015.

How Gartner Scores The Quadrant

Gartner's Magic Quadrant scrutinizes and ranks the major players in the data center networking field based on their ability to execute and completeness of vision.

In the execution category, Gartner reviews a vendor's products and services, viability, sales and marketing execution, pricing, track record and customer experience. For the vision category, researchers look at a company's strategy in marketing, sales, offerings and market understanding as well as business models and innovation.

Out of the 11 vendors in the quadrant, Gartner considered none as Challengers. The fast-growing Arista Networks and networking giant Cisco were Leaders, while the others were either Visionaries or Niche Players.

Trends: White-Box, Virtualization, Openness

There wasn't one trend, but instead several trends, that are revolutionizing the data center, the report found.

Adoption of and interest in white-box switches over the past year have increased significantly within hyperscale data centers through more acceptance.

"Dell kind of opened that white-box or branded white-box door up, then Juniper followed, then HP," said Lerner.

With SDN in its early stages, products are becoming more visible and available, as key vendors in the quadrant make significant investment, although wide-scale adoption has yet to occur.

Other trends impacting the space include demand for a denser, more highly virtualized data center to improve agility within networks. Organizations are also seeking less proprietary, closed systems than have typically filled the space.

Leader: Cisco Systems

With the largest installed base of any vendor in the quadrant, Cisco is by far the global leader in port shipments and revenue.

Solutions from the San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant's deep, broad portfolio are used by an array of customers from SMBs to enterprise, but Gartner sees overlapping, conflicting architectures as well as one of the priciest solutions on the market.

Cisco's flagship Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) is "less open" than some SDN products, said Lerner, but "if you're looking for an open solution, they do have a broad portfolio."

Gartner also noted limited market adoption -- fewer than 25 large-scale enterprise production ACI installations as of March. Cisco hopes to change that by fully integrating ACI with its Firepower Next Generation Intrusion Prevention System.

Leader: Arista Networks

Arista holds the title for the fastest-growing vendor in the space and is one of only two companies (including Cisco) that Gartner refers to as Leaders.

"Arista has taken a very open and agnostic approach that's cost-effective, so it's a very compelling story for enterprises … that doesn't lock you into a very specific architecture," said Lerner. "They will work for a lot of different vendors and provide an end-user buyer with many options."

But when organizations seek a dynamic orchestration system, they will need to integrate with an external system if they choose Arista.

Cisco also filed lawsuits against Arista last year, alleging the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company infringed on patents and copyrights. The suits pose a potential risk for Arista customers, Lerner said.

Visionary: Hewlett-Packard

The No. 2 player in the market has a strong global reach, a broad portfolio and open SDN. HP was rated the most open vendor, according to Gartner research surveys.

What is keeping the computer giant from being a leader in the market is its failure to execute sales from a channel perspective.

"From a portfolio perspective, they can go toe-to-toe with anybody. … They have the HP brand and the global distribution channel, so on paper, they should be a fierce competitor," said Lerner. "The reality is, we don't see the HP distribution channel putting the HP data center networking portfolio in front of customers with the same degree of fervor as, say, a Cisco or even an Arista."

Visionary: Dell

Dell was the most innovative vendor in the marketplace over the past year, with more than 24,000 networking customers, jumping from a niche player in 2014 to a visionary this year.

Lerner said Dell was the first mainstream vendor to support a disaggregation switching solution that allowed organizations to run third-party networking software on Dell hardware.

"It changed the conversation in data center networking," said Lerner.

Although Dell ranks third in 40GbE port shipments -- after Cisco and Arista -- the Round Rock, Texas-based company has limited visibility outside of existing Dell accounts.

Dell's direct sales model is seen as hurting its sales execution, compared with other vendors with a stronger channel-focus sales model.

Visionary: VMware

VMware is the only vendor that made the quadrant that doesn't provide hardware in the data center. The company's flagship NSX SDN overlay product garners a high degree of interest and has a proven track record of reliability with customers.

Gartner "believes" the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company has the largest installed base of any SDN solution in the market.

Falling only slightly behind Dell's vision, VMware's suffers from an immature channel and sales coverage -- ranking on the bottom half of the quadrant in ability to execute.

"They really have to embrace hardware more … because as an end-user organization, you're going to have to deal with two suppliers," said Lerner. "It would be better to embrace and work with their hardware partners like Arista and Brocade, and really come to market with a more integrated offering."

Visionary: Brocade Communications

The longtime data center vendor is centered on its VCS automated fabric technology and its Vyatta SDN controller. Brocade is a leading contributor to OpenDaylight and recently launched a new enterprise stackable switch and HyperEdge architecture in an effort to push partners toward selling SDN solutions.

"They're the champion of OpenDaylight, they just haven’t had a ton of market success. … In many cases it's a channel thing," said Lerner. "It's an opportunity for them to be more disruptive than some of the other vendors who have installation bases and margins to protect."

Brocade solutions rank among the priciest compared with similar competitors. The San Jose, Calif.-based company also doesn't offer its own converged data center infrastructure.

Visionary: Juniper Networks

A top-four vendor in port shipments and revenue, Juniper boasts a broad set of capabilities and has a solid track record in mid- to large-scale environments and with service providers. It has more than 5,000 customers for its MetaFabric, the architecture that covers its data center portfolio, made up of switches, routing, security and software.

Juniper unveiled a new line of spine switches, the QFX10000, for the data center in March that channel partners called groundbreaking.

However, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based networking company has lost visibility in the market because of a confusing marketing message. Gartner also reported software instability in the EX9200 platform and a decline in customer satisfaction.

"The good things they are doing tend to be specific for large network," said Lerner.

Visionary: Lenovo

The computer manufacturing company is the only new player in Gartner's quadrant following its $2.1 billion purchase of IBM's x86 server business last year.

The acquisition included IBM's System x, BladeCenter and Flex System blade servers and switches; x86-based Flex integrated systems; NeXTScale and iDataPlex servers; and associated software, blade networking and maintenance operations.

Lerner said he is seeing a resurgence of innovation in Lenovo with plans to offer more complete converged infrastructure solutions.

The big problem for the Beijing-based company is it severely lacks execution -- ranking the second-worst on the quadrant, only slightly ahead of Avaya, because of limited awareness and exposure to opportunities outside its x86 business.

Lenovo also doesn't have a chassis-based offering and has little experience creating data center network solutions.

Niche Player: Extreme Networks

A longtime player in the data center networking space, Extreme is refocusing its portfolio and revamping its channel strategy to support data center customers. The company recently cut 18 percent of its global workforce, some in sales positions, with plans to fill the gap by working more closely with solution providers.

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking vendor is able to capture roughly 2 percent market share, thanks to reliable data center solutions, aggressive prices, and new hardware switches and SDN controller based on OpenDaylight software.

Extreme has a partnership with Lenovo, but since Lenovo purchased IBM's networking portfolio, customers are hesitate to commit. The company also reportedly lacks capabilities that larger business desire, like VMware NSX integration and support for Puppet and Chef.

Niche Player: Huawei

China's data center networking superstar continues to expand its solutions, making significant strides in SDN last year. Huawei's broad switch portfolio and open SDN options are the preferred pick in China, the Asia-Pacific region and emerging markets, according to Gartner.

Although Huawei has tried to make inroads into the U.S. market, the company rarely shows up on client short lists and has limited sales and channel resources in North America and Western Europe. Huawei has also been eyed by the National Security Agency as a potential threat.

The Shenzhen, China-based company is also insufficient with marketing communications, visibility and differentiation.

Niche Player: Avaya

One of the smallest players in the field, Avaya has a large installed base of legacy solutions, and its Fabric Connect architecture gives a highly automated solution that simplifies virtual machine mobility, Lerner said.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based vendor has serious issues with limited resources for networking as well as scarce channel capabilities.

Although ranking the lowest on the quadrant in both vision and execution, Avaya has launched dedicated sales and engineering teams that look to improve the company's position in 2015, according to Lerner.

Avaya recently extended a new capability for its Fabric Connect that enables extending fabric networking across any IP-based network without loss of functionality. The company also launched an SDN offensive.