High-performance network vendor Arista Networks this week introduced an upgrade to its Cognitive Campus portfolio for enterprise networks. The company's Cognitive Campus vision is to simplify networks through the use of artificial intelligence and automation.
Initially, the use-value proposition for it revolved around better-performing networks in the enterprise, which would then lead to optimized application performance, happier customers and more productive employees.
The pandemic changed network requirements
But then along came COVID-19, and the world changed and made the need for a “cognitive” network even more important. Consider a campus environment in the post-COVID era. There will be a number of significant changes from the pre-pandemic one, most notably:
- A rise in video conferencing. Without a doubt, the biggest change to campus networks will be an explosion in the amount of video. The pandemic forced us all to get comfortable seeing ourselves on Zoom meetings, and now that’s the norm. Even post-pandemic, I’m expecting more than 90% of meetings to include at least one virtual participant. Post-pandemic, video will be the most disruptive force on campus networks.
- Internet of things (IoT) will lead to a safe workplace. Historically, IoT was a niche technology used to connect building systems, factory equipment and other non-IT equipment. The post-pandemic office will see an explosion of IoT endpoints as businesses will use connected “things” to make the workplace safer. This includes temperature sensors, IP video surveillance, environmental readers, cleaning robots and other equipment to ensure the workplace remains safe but functional. IT pros should expect to see a steep rise in connected endpoints.
- High-performance wireless is the norm. WiFi 6, WiFi 6E, 5G and other wireless infrastructure are coming to the workplace fast. What this means is that, for the first time, wireless speeds will match wired so organizations will no longer need to choose between wired performance or WiFi mobility—now they’ll have both. This will, in turn, give rise to a wide variety of new wireless use cases for things that were once on dedicated, separate networks.
- Rise in malware. COVID-19 has created a new wave of phishing, snooping and other types of malware. This, combined with remote working, has created an almost untenable situation for security pros as the threat of a breach has never been higher. Security must shift to being network-centric, with AI being used to find those small anomalies that can detect a breach.
Cognitive Campus gives the network a facelift
The above trends all call for the network to evolve, and that’s what Arista has been focused on with its Cognitive Campus solutions as it strives to give networks an entirely new look. For example, manual operations give way to AI-powered automation, edge security shifts to zero trust, and quality of service at the network evolves to quality of experience at the application layer.
720 and 750 series set a new high watermark for network performance
The evolution of the network in the post-pandemic workplace has put pressure on the campus network. To help alleviate these pains, Arista announced its new 720 fixed switch series and the 750 modular family. Like all of Arista's products, both sets of switches run the company’s EOS operating system and can be managed with its CloudVision portal.
The 720 series comes in one and two RU form factors with port densities of 24, 48 and 96 60W PoE ports and support multi-gig speeds, making them ideal for wiring closets or where space is an issue. Organizations looking to deploy a network with a high-performance edge will benefit from these products as they bring multi-gig speeds anywhere in the campus. This is a core requirement for WiFi 6 as the wireless gig barrier is being broken.
The 750 family sets a new benchmark for campus performance. These are 100-gig ready and have a port density of a whopping 384 10-gig ports and are the only switches available with 400G uplinks. One might wonder why any company would need uplink speeds that high in an access switch. The answer lies in all the trends above where video and other forms of traffic are generating massive amounts of network traffic. Even 50-gig could lead to congestion and less than optimal application performance. If an enterprise were to deploy 50-gig or even 80-gig, it's likely it would need to upgrade the switch in a year or two; 400-gig offers an element of future proofing.
New cognitive features make the network smarter
Arista also has a feature called “Cognitive PoE,” in which customers can intelligently manage the power delivered from the switches through the following:
- Continuous PoE offers non-stop power to ensure no loss to critical devices, such as an IP surveillance camera. The PoE keeps working, even if a software upgrade is being done.
- Concurrent PoE offers 802.3bt on all ports all the time. This is ideally suited when a business wants to “set it and forget it” like a warehouse where new devices are being plugged in.
- Dynamic PoE measures power utilization and prioritizes critical ports over others. This avoids over-provisioning and optimizes for power consumption.
Another feature in the new Arista switches is pervasive 256-bit MACSec encryption, enabling links to be secured and protected against snooping. This would be most useful in shared areas, such as workspaces or outdoors. The integrated security is a good example of how cyber-protection is shifting to being intrinsic in the network instead of deployed as an overlay.
Lastly, like all Arista products, the new switches provide a wealth of information from its real-time, streamed telemetry. The data can be viewed in the CloudVision management portal and can help network managers see changes and anomalies to shift to a proactive management model.
As companies start bringing people back to the office, the network will need to bear the brunt of being the foundation for the hybrid workplace, and a “good enough” network certainly won’t be good enough. As one would expect, Arista is bringing high performance to the campus but also the necessary intelligence and automation to enable engineers to keep the network up and running without the traditional manual heavy lifting.
Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.