Here's Who Made Gartner's 2016 Magic Quadrant For Data Center Networking

Data Center Networking Is Evolving

Data center networking is rapidly evolving after years of stability because of increasing open and disaggregated network solutions, along with new technologies aimed toward simplifying and improving network operations to align them more closely with business goals and agility.

Vendors are shifting toward differentiation in software rather than hardware as software-defined networking (SDN) begins to garner mainstream interest in 2016, according to market researcher Gartner lead analyst Mark Fabbi, who wrote Gartner's 2016 Magic Quadrant for Data Center Networking.

"You have SDN, automated fabrics is really picking up, and you've got the whole open networking phenomenon with brite-box [switching]," said Fabbi, in an interview with CRN. "There's not necessarily one solution that fits everybody. There's differentiation between the vendors and how they approach the marketplace. … We're not ready to declare final winners or losers yet -- there's still market shifts to be had."

A total of 13 vendors made this year's Gartner Magic Quadrant for Data Center Networking, including tech giants Cisco, Huawei, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Dell. CRN lays out Gartner's report in the following slideshow.

Networking Research Methodology

Gartner evaluated data center networking vendors who provide networking hardware and/or software solutions within enterprise data centers. Technologies include data center core and spine solutions, server access switches, virtual switching, SDN and trends leveraging open-source and disaggregated networking technologies.

Gartner ranks the vendors based on products, services, sales strategy and execution, pricing, customer experience, market understanding and innovation, among other factors.

The Magic Quadrant ranks vendors on their ability to execute and completeness of vision. Gartner places vendors into four categories: Niche Players (low on vision and execution), Visionaries (good vision but low execution), Challengers (good execution but low vision) and Leaders (excelling in both vision and execution).

Cisco Systems: Leader

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant still leads the data center market by a wide margin, whether measuring by revenue or port shipments. However, Cisco continued to lose 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.

"They are -- and will for the foreseeable future be -- the leader here," said Fabbi. "When you have 60-plus percent market share and nearly 50 percent unit market share, you have to appeal to a lot of people and approaches, but that hurts them [also], because they don't really have a unified strategy to deal with [the vast diversity of customers]."

Cisco was ranked No. 1 in execution on the quadrant, but fourth in vision behind VMware, Dell and Arista Networks.

Cisco Systems

Strengths: Gartner is seeing an increased interest for Cisco Nexus 9000 switches, which is driving the adoption of more products. Cisco's large installed base is comfortable configuring products, while the vendor has channel partners covering all verticals and geographies.

Weaknesses: Cisco's broad data center working portfolio can be confusing to customers, as it's complicated by many management options, including its Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC), Nexus Fabric Manager, Virtual Topology System, Open SDN Controller, Cisco Prime and the Data Center Network Manager. Fabbi said compatibility and upgradability across families are challenging.

Arista Networks: Leader

Arista Networks continues to be one of the fast-growing vendors in the data center, with product revenue growth of more than 40 percent in 2015 year over year. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based vendor is focused exclusively on data center switching, although it is expanding to address the broader mainstream enterprise market and increase geographic reach, according to Fabbi.

"Arista appeals to the technically astute buyer because they're completely agnostic on how you run the environment," said Fabbi. "They appeal to a lot of folks doing the integration themselves. … They're broadening the message to go after the mainstream enterprise."

Arista was ranked No. 2 in execution, behind only Cisco, and No. 3 in vision on the quadrant.

Arista Networks

Strengths: Arista provides tight integration with a wide range of software orchestration and SDN solutions, while also giving its customers flexibility though programmability of its Extensible Operating System (EOS) platform based on Linux. The vendor provides high-performance and very scalable solutions with deep buffers, large address tables and low latency to deal with the complexities of data center applications, according to Gartner.

Weaknesses: Its geographic coverage is limited outside North America and Western Europe. Arista needs to continue to ramp up its support practices and channel programs to better serve the mainstream market, said Fabbi. Arista also doesn't provide interfaces for converged storage networks where Fibre Channel is required.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise: Challenger

Bringing in the second-most data center network revenue in 2015, Hewlett Packard Enterprise entered 2016 after completing the sale of 51 percent of its H3C subsidiary in China (also on the quadrant). HPE will be reliant on H3C for the primary Comware code base and platforms for its data center network portfolio.

"We do have concerns of what the future looks like because of the minority ownership of H3C because a lot of the data center technology comes from H3C," said Fabbi. "It's still not 100 percent clear how that relationship will be working."

For its recent second quarterly earnings, Palo Alto, Calif.-based HPE reported overall networking revenue of $874 million, up a whopping 57 percent year over year, thanks to its $3 billion acquisition last year of Aruba Networks.

HPE is ranked No. 3 in execution on the quadrant, but falls amid the bottom of the pack in regards to vision.


Strengths: HPE remains committed to expanding its open networking strategy beyond support for vendors Cumulus Networks and Pica8, and has made significant investments into SDN, disaggregated networking and open-source initiatives. Fabbi said the company also has global delivery and is fully able to support data center requirements with a full line of networking, compute and storage solutions.

Weaknesses: Despite a strong networking portfolio, HPE channels offer server solutions bundled with competitive networking products such as Arista and Cisco. Gartner says HPE has less control of its flagship platforms and code base more than the other 12 vendors in the quadrant.

Brocade Communications: Challenger

Brocade Communications increased its data center networking revenue in 2015 by nearly 20 percent, with 4,000 customers running its flagship product, the VCS switching fabric. San Jose, Calif.-based Brocade is continuing to make investments and product innovation in the areas of automation, workflow orchestration and SDN. This year, Brocade acquired Ruckus Wireless to boost its networking portfolio.

"They're certainly a vendor that understands data center architectures very well," said Fabbi. "Brocade's pretty well positioned and is taking a little bit of market share."

Brocade is ranked No. 5 in execution and in the middle of the pack in regard to vision.


Strengths: Brocade's VCS fabric is simpler to operate compared with competitors' solutions because of its "high degree" of automation and zero-touch provisioning capabilities. The vendor also offers flexible business models such as subscription-based billing and pay-as-you-grow options.

Weaknesses: The company has limited channels compared with its leading competitors, which has hindered Brocade's sales. Brocade also has a limited installed base in the midmarket -- organizations with 100 to 999 employees.

Juniper Networks: Challenger

Juniper is a top-four vendor when measuring revenue or port shipments in data center networking. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based network vendor has introduced support for the hardware/software disaggregation model with the launch of the OCX1100 bright-box switch with its Junos software, the QFX5200 and the independent availability of Junos software.

"2015 was a transitional year for Juniper -- a year to recover after a very difficult 2014, where they really downplayed the enterprise business," said Fabbi. "From a product perspective, they've really filled in the gaps. When Rami [Rahim] came in as CEO, they really got things headed back in the right direction, and it's clear now where Juniper is heading with their technology."

Juniper is No. 4 in execution and sits in the middle of the pack for vision.

Juniper Networks

Strengths: Juniper now has an open and thorough road map that addresses emerging data center networking requirements, and its solutions are aggressively priced. Its broad portfolio of data center solutions based on common building blocks can be used to create different fabric solutions.

Weaknesses: The vendor has lost some traction with Gartner enterprise clients, as seen from a decrease in inquiries and contact reviews. Juniper "needs to" increase its presence with midsize enterprise accounts, said Fabbi.

VMware: Visionary

Ranked No. 1 in vision on the quadrant, VMware wields a high degree of influence in the data center given its incumbent position in the server virtualization market, thanks to its NSX platform. NSX is the leader of the sales and production deployments of SDN platforms in the market, according to Gartner, although VMware is the only vendor that does not provide hardware.

"VMware has great software and they continue to add features to it," said Fabbi. "What VMware has to learn to do is help their customers with end-to-end solutions. … They lose a lot of deals because of that lack of end-to-end capability."

Although Palo Alto-based VMware is the leader in vision on the quadrant, it sits in the bottom of the pack for execution.


Strengths: VMware's virtual switching solutions are widely deployed across its installed base, with a deep feature set and a proven track record for reliability. NSX, which is hardware-agnostic, does not require large upfront capital investments or mandate hardware changes -- it can be piloted and introduced incrementally.

Weaknesses: The value of NSX is dramatically diminished in environments that are not highly virtualized, since integration of bare-metal resources requires gateways or switches supporting VXLAN Tunnel EndPoint (VTEP) integration from technology partners.

Dell: Visionary

At the end of 2015, Dell had more than 400 customers -- up year over year from about 100 customers -- running their open networking solution.

"Dell is the poster child for open networking at this point," said Fabbi. "You can buy Dell hardware with Dell software, but with a lot of other vendors' software as well. They're pushing towards this brite-box architecture."

With the pending acquisition of EMC, Gartner expects Dell to become a stronger force with enterprise customers as the opportunity to deliver more complete and varied converged solutions to the market is enhanced.

Dell ranks No. 2 for vision on the quadrant and is in the middle of the pack for execution.


Strengths: Round Rock, Texas-based Dell provides the largest selection of open software in the market, combined with global support for its partner software providers, according to Gartner. Dell is growing its portfolio of switches that support their open strategy of disaggregating hardware from network software alternatives.

Weaknesses: The pending acquisition of EMC and the transition into a private company are disruptive, leading to short-term integration issues and market confusion. The move toward open networking resulted in Dell's unit shipments increasing by 5.6 percent during 2015, although revenue dropped 9 percent.

Huawei: Niche Player

Shenzhen, China-based Huawei became the fastest-growing vendor on the quadrant in 2015, with 70 percent year-over-year revenue growth. Huawei has enhanced its Cloud Fabric architecture, CloudEngine switching platform and SDN controller offerings, and is moving toward more flexible procurement models that allow customers to pay as they go.

"Their products are pretty cost-effective and they tend to throw a lot of professional services at [customers]," said Fabbi. "North America is still pretty tough for them to penetrate."

Huawei ranks in the middle of the pack for both vision and execution.


Strengths: Huawei has a broad data center switch portfolio, open SDN options, and a complete converged infrastructure offering with network, compute and storage. The company also has deep financial resources and has showed a willingness to invest in regional markets.

Weaknesses: As has been the issue for years, Huawei has limited channels outside China and some other parts of Asia -- forcing it to rely on internal resources to support customer deployments. Gartner clients say Huawei needs to improve its sales processes and documentation outside of China, according to Fabbi.

Avaya: Niche Player

Avaya continues to gain traction with its Fabric Connect solution, which simplifies network configuration in the data center, with more than 500 Fabric Connect solutions now deployed. Despite the growth, Avaya's overall data center networking business declined by nearly 15 percent in 2015, according to Gartner.

"The Fabric Connect is [a] highly automated, easy-to-use network fabric -- it's a very elegant technical solution," said Fabbi. "The big problem for Avaya is really getting market traction."

Avaya ranks in the middle of the pack for vision and near the bottom for execution.


Strengths: Avaya's well-proven end-to-end fabric reaches from the data center to campus and branch locations. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is also leveraging the trend toward merchant silicon by delivering its software preloaded on validated original design manufacturer (ODM) hardware.

Weaknesses: The company networking portfolio has received relatively little leverage in investment compared with its core unified communications business. The company suffers from a lack of market visibility and technical resources, as well as partners that are familiar with their solutions.

NEC: Niche Player

New to the data center networking Magic Quadrant is NEC, because of its increasing revenue and growing deployments of SDN solutions.

"They have one of the biggest install bases in the marketplace," said Fabbi. With over 200 production SDN deployments, NEC is increasing investment on the software layers of the networking stack where they offer SDN controller and SDN applications that focus on microsegmentation, virtualization, service chaining, automation and policy-based flow control.

Tokyo-based NEC ranks in the middle of the pack for vision and near the bottom for execution.


Strengths: Being one of the earliest networking players in the SDN market, NEC has already invested a large portfolio of its R&D in developing SDN software. The company also has strong service capabilities to help potential customers deploy newer SDN solutions.

Weaknesses: NEC has a limited portfolio of older hardware platforms for data center deployments, making it dependent on other networking players to provide the physical network. Additionally, NEC hasn't released capabilities to support the DevOps community with tools like Puppet and Chef.

New H3C Group: Niche Player

The first year as an independent vendor after HPE sold the majority stake, China-based New H3C Group has more than 5,000 employees and a full portfolio of networking switches to meet nearly all enterprise environments. In China, H3C conducts direct and indirect sales via a channel of 3,000 partners, with traction in large enterprises and service and cloud providers, according to Gartner.

"They're only focused in China. So they're geographically constrained, but in the Chinese marketplace, [they are] a force to be reckoned with," said Fabbi.

H3C ranks in the middle of the pack for execution and near the bottom for vision.

H3C Group

Strengths: H3C has emerged as one of the largest networking providers in China. Because the majority is owned by China-based Tsinghua Holdings, that will allow it to better compete for government-owned enterprise and telecom business within the country.

Weaknesses: Clients are confused about the relationship between HPE and H3C -- including which entity owns the intellectual property, where the R&D is performed and the future strategy of the two providers.

Extreme Networks: Niche Player

Extreme Networks has transformed its engineering organization to support a software-driven strategy and is now focusing 90 percent of resources on software. San Jose, Calif.-based Extreme has joined the VMware NSX partner program and are working to integrate solutions. Although Extreme has more than 22,000 customers, less than 10 percent are for data center solutions.

"They're focused on adding software value to their infrastructure," said Fabbi. "They have a very, very good services support team that they inherited from [the] Enterasys [Networks acquisition]."

Extreme lands in the middle of the pack for execution and near the bottom for vision.

Extreme Networks

Strengths: Extreme has a deep and broad portfolio of data center networking equipment and a strong customer service through a 100 percent insourced service and support team. Gartner says the company has an open and standards-based approach to address emerging requirements, including support for VXLAN, OpenFlow and multiple APIs, such as OpenConfig.

Weaknesses: Extreme is growing below market rates and has been late with NSX integration. The company offerings lack capabilities for enterprises that desire support for Puppet and Chef.

Lenovo: Niche Player

Known for its server businesses, Lenovo, which has its U.S. headquarters in Morrisville, N.C., made the quadrant because of its top of rack (ToR) switches and embedded modules for Lenovo's blade and flex server systems. While Lenovo remained a top 10 vendor when measured by port shipments and revenue, its sales and revenue for data center networking products declined by more than 40 percent in 2015.

"Not much has happened in the last year," said Fabbi. "The effort to transition from IBM to Lenovo was very difficult, and most of the focus was [on] maintaining market share on the server side, and the networking pieces didn't get a lot of attention."

Lenovo ranks last in both execution and vision on the quadrant.


Strengths: Lenovo's switches provide both Fibre Channel and Ethernet interfaces in the same ToR access switch hardware. The company doesn't restrict organizations to exclusively using Lenovo networking gear in their server systems -- offering support for modules from competitors like Cisco and Brocade.

Weaknesses: Customers don't deploy Lenovo as an end-to-end network solution, but instead, it is deployed only as an access layer solution for Lenovo server environments, according to Fabbi. Levono has also been slow in executing against its vision, with few new product launches or software solutions unveiled over the past year.