Top Data Center Network Switch Makers

eWEEK TOP COMPANIES: The enterprise network has undergone significant change in the last decade, thanks to increasing software-defined networking (SDN) solutions, network-function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). Here is eWEEK's listing of the top 10 companies in switch development as of summer 2020.

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For decades, IT networks were considered little more than necessary plumbing that linked servers, storage and end-user clients, with the sole purpose of simply running data between the various points. However, the last several years have brought significant changes in IT, with the world rapidly becoming more data-centric, more software-defined, more distributed and more mobile.

At the same time, there has been the rise of new and emerging applications and technologies, from artificial intelligence and machine learning to the cloud, edge computing, data analytics, virtual and augmented reality  and the internet of things (IoT). There are a lot more functions now being built into networks, not the least of which are security and business intelligence.

“The network’s always been one of those things people have argued about, when it comes to its relative value in an IT system,” longtime industry analyst Zeus Kerravala of ZKResearch told eWEEK. “Well, it’s continued to increase in value because we live in a world where everything’s connected. There’s really only one network now, and all of our devices now have to connect to it.” 

How networks have changed in a short time

The growing demand for faster speeds, more bandwidth and lower latency has put the network front and center in the IT world. Data and applications are no longer confined to central data centers, and they need to move quickly between those data centers, the edge and multiple clouds.

The network itself also has undergone significant change. Networks are now increasingly monitored and virtualized, with software-defined networking (SDN), network-function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). They’ve also become more intelligent—look at intent-based networking—and the decoupling of the data plane and network functions from the underlying proprietary hardware has given rise to open switches that can run third-party operating systems and software. Cisco Systems, Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and other established vendors now offer branded gear that can run software from the likes of Cumulus Networks, Big Switch Networks and Pluribus Networks; often their own software can run on hardware from other vendors.

It also has enabled original-design manufacturers (ODMs) that make unbranded white-box switches to gain ground in the highly competitive enterprise networking space. In the current IT world, networks are now the foundation, the key enabling of modern computing; central to networks are switches.

Here’s a listing some of the market-leading and next-generation switch vendors in no particular order, with the list being created with research from Gartner Research, IDC, Dell’Oro Group and other sources.

Cisco Systems

San Jose, Calif.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Any discussion about networking has to start with Cisco Systems. The company has been at the top of the market for the past couple of decades, and even throughout its ongoing transformation into less of a box-maker and more of a software and solutions provider, Cisco has continued to be the dominant hardware player in the space. Its portfolio of switches bears that out.

Cisco's 4Q19 Ethernet switch revenues gave the company a 50.9% market share. For the full year 2019, Cisco switching revenues were flat, rising 0.1% over 2018. In the hotly contested 25GbE/100GbE segment, Cisco remained the market leader with 39.7% share in 4Q19.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Range of offerings: The vendor has brought an array of offerings, from its Nexus data center and cloud switches to switches for LANs, WANs, storage solutions, industrial Ethernet environments and small businesses. No other company has that many choices.
  • Use cases: large enterprise production; military and government workloads; financial services.
  • Top in marketshare: Cisco has become the top SD-WAN infrastructure vendor, thanks in part to its Meraki unit; its massive Catalyst 9000 switch is the hardware foundation of its expanding intent-based networking efforts.
  • Highly regarded overall: The company has long been atop Gartner’s Magic Quadrant of data center networking leaders and, according to IDC, owned more than 54 percent of the Ethernet switch market in 2019 and was the leader in the highly competitive 25/50/100Gb space.

Who uses it: Mostly larger enterprises; IT networking personnel only
How it works: many on-premises hardware and software options
Read user reviews of Cisco Systems

Arista Networks

Santa Clara, Calif.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Arista is newer and smaller than rival Cisco, but it has made significant gains over the last several years. The company’s 2018 Ethernet switch revenues jumped 27.6 percent and its share grew from 5.6 percent a year earlier to 6.6 percent, according to IDC. Arista has put legitimate marketshare pressure on leader Cisco Systems in the tech sector during the past five years.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Highly respected in the industry: Arista, which sits with Cisco and Juniper in the “leader” section of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, offers a range of switches that scale from 10Gb to 100Gb and support leaf and spine architectures (see definition above).
  • Use cases: technology, science, oil and gas exploration, high-end workloads of all kinds.
  • Arista has developed what it calls Spline, which collapses the leaf and spine into a single tier for high-performance, highly dense deployments, such as Ethernet storage, clouds and distributed computing.
  • Arista 7250QX Series is a switch designed specifically for the Spline architecture; aimed at very progressive users.
  • Support is highly regarded by others in the industry.

Who uses it: Midrange and larger enterprises; specialized IT networking staff only
How it works: on-premises hardware and software options
Read user reviews of Arista Networks

Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

Santa Clara, Calif.

Value proposition for potential buyers: HPE’s flagship Aruba CX Switching portfolio includes a variety of top-of-rack, fixed configuration and modular campus, branch and data center switches, in various 1-100GbE port combinations. The switches are managed end-to-end by a single modern network operating system – AOS-CX. This reduces complexity, streamlines operations, and simplifies management, especially for data center, campus and branch infrastructures leveraging a combined core.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Simplified Approach: The Aruba portfolio of CX switches simplifies data center networking via intelligent automation, distributed analytics and an always-on infrastructure. This unique model reduces risks, improves efficiency and delivers a high-performance network.
  • Network Optimization: The cloud-native CX platform is optimized by Aruba’s Network Analytics Engine, which utilizes embedded analytics and automation to simplify management, accelerate troubleshooting of application performance issues and remediate common network problems.
  • Analyst Recognition: Aruba made one of the biggest moves in this year’s Gartner Data Center and Cloud Networking Magic Quadrant, moving into the Visionary Quadrant. This is a noteworthy move for the company.
    In the first quarter 2020, HPE Aruba’s Ethernet switch revenue jumped 12% over the previous year, with its market share growing to 5.5%. In a market dominated by long-established competitors, this is a good trend for the company.

Who uses it: Midrange and large enterprises, IT networking staff and admins
How it works: On-premises and cloud-based hardware and software options
Read user reviews of Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Dell EMC

Round Rock, Texas

Value proposition for potential buyers: Dell Technologies see itself as a one-stop shop for all things enterprise IT, and the data center networking business under Dell EMC is no different. The company offers several high-performance data center switches in its S- and Z-Series and the N-Series for its managed campus access and aggregation switches.However, networking infrastructure is not the company's No. 1 business, because it is among the world leaders in hyperconverged and converged data center equipment other than networking.

Dell EMC has expanded its portfolio of open networking systems to include a 100 Gigabit Ethernet switch designed for Hyperscale data centers, large enterprises and service providers. The highly dense Z9264F-ON switch, with 64 ports of 100GbE in a 2U (3.5-inch) form factor, is designed to address the rapid changes occurring in data centers and the rising demand for fast 100GbE networking, 

Key values/differentiators:

  • Big in open networking: Dell EMC offers a series of Open Networking switches, which carry the Dell EMC brand but can run third-party network OSes and software from vendors like Cumulus, Big Switch and Pluribus (as well as Dell EMC’s own OS9 and OS10.
  • Choice of virtualization options: The Open Networking switches also offer a choice of virtualization options—VMware NSX, Midokura MidoNet and Nuage Networks—and leverages the open-source ONIE (Open Network Install Environment) to enable zero-touch installation of third-party software.
  • Use cases: All over the board; Dell is strong in the midrange enterprise sector, always has been, and it's no different in networking infrastructure. Midrange-size business with one or more data centers is a mainstay; government agencies; retail; financial services; technology.

Who uses it: Midrange and larger enterprises; mostly IT networking staff and admins.
How it works: on-premises hardware and software options
Read user reviews of Dell EMC

Extreme Networks

San Jose, Calif.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Extreme Networks has a solid lineup of data center switches that can scale from 1Gb to 100Gb, giving organizations flexibility when connecting their systems. At the same time, the company also has put a growing focus on supplying switches for deployment outside the firewall, in particular in branch officers, in the cloud and out at the network edge—as illustrated by the launch of its Smart OmniEdge networking solution last year—which is where much of the action in these days.

In April 2020, Extreme Networks announced that it has expanded its cloud footprint by enabling ExtremeCloud IQ across its edge solutions, including the X465 stackable switch platform, X440-G2 family of switches and ExtremeWireless access points and controllers.

Furthermore, the company added a new generation of Wi-Fi 6 access points (APs) and the ExtremeCloud Appliance to the portfolio, which will be integrated into ExtremeCloud IQ in the coming months with extra machine learning/artificial intelligence (ML/AI) capabilities. The cloud platform that powers ExtremeCloud IQ came from Extreme's Aerohive acquisition, which closed in August 2019. 

Key values/differentiators:

  • Frontline products: Key standalone switch products include the SLX 9540, which the company describes as a versatile data center edge switch that offers high density for data center interconnect, WAN edge and internet exchange point deployments.
  • Use cases: General business with one or more data centers; government agencies; retail; financial services; technology.
  • Edge computing connections: The CES 2000 offers edge access capabilities.
  • What the market says: Gartner has Extreme and Huawei as the only “challengers” to Cisco, Juniper and Arista in its Magic Quadrant.

Who uses it: Midrange and larger enterprises; specialized IT networking staff only
How it works: on-premises hardware and software options
Read user reviews of Extreme Networks

Juniper Networks

Sunnyvale, Calif.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Juniper has a switch lineup that runs from the data center and into the cloud. It’s QFX series of high performance and density systems are designed for both data centers and telecommunications environments and fit into a wide array of deployments, including top-of-rack and end-of-row as well as access and leaf, lean spine and core-and-spine.

Editor’s note: Leaf-spine is a two-layer network topology composed of leaf switches and spine switches. Leaf switches mesh into the spine, forming the access layer that delivers network connection points for servers. Every leaf switch in a leaf-spine architecture connects to every switch in the network fabric.

Key values/differentiators:

  • New products: The company has added 400GbE capabilities with its QFX10008 and 10016 switches.
  • Switches support range of workloads: The EX series of Ethernet switches provide for access, aggregation and core networking for branch, campus, data center and service provider environments, and can support everything from 1GbE to 100GbE.

Who uses it: Midrange and larger enterprises; IT networking personnel only
How it works: on-premises hardware and software options
Read user reviews of Juniper Networks

Cambium Networks

Rolling Meadows, Ill.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Cambium is one of the promising new kids on the block and an early proponent of WiFi6 fabric networks. With WiFi 6, speeds would be up, latency would be down and familiar limitations of WiFi would vanish. The relatively fallow ground of 6GHz meant that compromises due to legacy devices would be gone, making WiFi something that you could use anywhere in the office or on the production floor.

WiFi 6 at 60GHz added a lot of extra bandwidth, so wireless capacity would move far beyond the current limitations of fiber networks in the office. While there will still be a role for fiber outside of the office, inside the office, 60GHz WiFi 6 will simplify enterprise networking by providing a multi-gigabit infrastructure without the disruption of cabling or the expense of wired infrastructure.

Cambium Networks has already announced a line of 60GHz WiFi 6 products that can support the wireless backbone of the future. The new products are expected to arrive in summer 2020 and should include high-speed cloud access in addition to 60GHz wireless access points and related infrastructure. 

Key values/differentiators:

  • Cambium describes itself as “a global provider of wireless broadband solutions that connect the unconnected.” 
  • Through its extensive portfolio of reliable, scalable and secure wireless broadband point-to-point (PTP) and point-to-multipoint (PMP) platforms, Cambium Networks makes it possible for all service providers; enterprises; governmental and military agencies; oil, gas and utility companies; Internet service providers; and public safety networks to build powerful, easily sustainable communications networks.
  • Cambium has introduced a new pair of WiFi 6 access points, six multi-gigabit switches and enhanced cloud-based software. These new products stem from the company’s acquisition of Xirrus WiFi products, which is a strong start. Xirrus was a critical pioneer in the wireless networking space, building on its predecessor Xircom, the company that introduced wireless networking for portable computers.

Who uses it: Midrange and large enterprises; IT networking staff and admins.
How it works: on-premises hardware and software options

NVIDIA Mellanox

Sunnyvale, Calif.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Mellanox Technologies, acquired by GPU maker NVIDIA for $6.9 billion in 2019, is a supplier of end-to-end connectivity solutions for servers and storage that optimize data center performance. Mellanox claims that its products deliver market-leading bandwidth, performance, scalability, power conservation and cost-effectiveness while converging multiple legacy network technologies into one future-proof solution.

Mellanox switches are often found in Fortune 500 data centers and the world's most powerful supercomputing solutions. Founded in 1999, Mellanox Technologies is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif. and Yokneam, Israel.

Key values/differentiators:

  • The Mellanox Spectrum Ethernet Switch product family includes a broad portfolio of Top-of-Rack and aggregation switches. 
  • Mellanox Spectrum Ethernet switches come in flexible form-factors with 16 to 128 physical ports supporting 1GbE through 400GbE. 
  • Based on ground-breaking silicon technology that is optimized for performance and scale, Spectrum switches are ideal to build high performance, cost-effective and efficient cloud data center networks, Ethernet storage fabric, and deep learning interconnects.
  • Mellanox Spectrum Ethernet switches can be deployed in a wide range of data center networking solutions, including large scale layer-2 and layer-3 cloud designs, overlay-based virtualized networks, as well as part of high-performance mission-critical Ethernet Storage Fabrics or Deep Learning interconnect infrastructure.

Who uses it: Midrange and large enterprises; IT networking staff and admins.
How it works: on-premises hardware and software options

Huawei Technologies

Shenzhen, China

Value proposition for potential buyers: The massive Chinese tech company is seeing momentum in its data center networking business. Gartner has it placed solidly in the “challenger” category—edging ever close to the line that would bring it into “leader” area—and IDC noted that in the third quarter 2018, Huawei’s Ethernet switch revenue grew 21.3 percent year-over-year, and its market share hit 8.6 percent. However, lawmaker worries about the company’s possible close ties to the Chinese government—which some see as posing a national security threat—has made it difficult for Huawei to make inroads in the United States as well as some other markets. Still, Huawei offers the CloudEngine 12800 series core switches, the CloudEngine 5800, 6800, 7800 and 8800 fixed access switches and CloudEngine 1800V virtual switch. It also sells a broad range of campus switches.

Read user reviews of Huawei Technologies

Editor’s note: This is an update of an eWEEK article previously published in February 2019.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...