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10 most powerful enterprise networking vendors in 2021

10 most powerful enterprise networking vendors in 2021

Here's our rundown of what makes these 10 vendors of network gear the biggest power players within the enterprise.

Credit: IDG

When the pandemic hit last spring, employees suddenly began working from home, enterprises quickly shifted applications to the cloud, and secure remote access became critical. As we move (hopefully) beyond the pandemic, it’s clear that enterprise networking has been changed forever.

Companies are looking at new technologies like SASE to combine networking and edge security into one manageable platform. Zero-trust network access has moved from the back burner to the hot-seat as companies seek a more effective way to fight cyber attacks in a world where the traditional perimeter no longer exists.

The lines between security and networking are blurring, with traditional security vendors moving into the networking realm, and networking companies upping their security game.

Vendors that made in our top 10 most powerful in enterprise networking have demonstrated that they have a clear vision for the future of networking and that they have a solid game plan for achieving their goals.

Editor's note: Power is a subjective quality, and this list is not a ranking based on simple, quantifiable metrics. Our list is ordered, with input from industry watchers, to reflect the companies that are making the biggest power moves and the broadest impact on the network industry.

1. Cisco: Staying ahead of the pack with SASE, Zero Trust, IoT and NaaS

Why they’re here: There’s a reason why nobody has been able to knock Cisco off its perch as the dominant networking vendor. You’re never going to outflank Cisco.

SASE? Cisco’s got it, with an integrated bundle that includes technologies from strategic acquisitions like Meraki for SD-WAN, AnyConnect for remote access and Duo for Zero Trust.

How about networking-as-a-service? Check. Cisco recently announced a subscription-based NaaS service called Cisco Plus. IoT? Cisco’s got that covered with its Cisco Kinetic platform.

Oh, and Cisco remains the market leader in core categories like Ethernet switch revenue: The pandemic knocked Cisco’s 2020 switch revenue down nearly 10 per cent, but Cisco still holds a leading 39 per cent market share, according to IDC. By way of comparison, Juniper’s switch market share was three per cent.

Power Moves: Cisco has been on a buying spree of late. Acquisitions include Fluidmesh (Industrial IoT and connected vehicles), Kenna Security (vulnerability management), and Sedona Systems (software-defined networking).

By the numbers: $12.8 billion: Cisco reported Q3 revenue of $12.8 billion, up seven per cent on strong growth in security (up 13 per cent), infrastructure platforms (up six per cent), and applications (up five per cent).

Outlook: As enterprises reinvent their business models in the post-pandemic world, IT spending is expected to increase in a variety of areas--IoT, SASE and Zero Trust among the top three.

By offering a broad portfolio of hardware, software and services, Cisco is well positioned to take advantage of the desire by CIOs to reduce their reliance on point products and settle on a limited number of strategic partners.


2. VMware: Free at last, VMware is poised for innovation and growth

Why They’re Here: VMware has successfully expanded its product portfolio from server virtualisation into containers, security, cloud migration, cloud management, endpoint management, SD-WAN, hyper-convergence and advanced networking.

But it’s been an eventful past few months for VMware. In January, CEO Pat Gelsinger jumped ship after 10 years at the helm and went back to Intel, where he had previously worked for 30 years (although he doesn’t look old enough to have been in the industry that long.)

As if that weren’t unsettling enough, in April, Dell dropped a bombshell, announcing that it was spinning off VMware. EMC acquired VMware in 2004; Dell bought EMC in 2016, and VMware was part of the deal)

Power Moves: Becoming an independent company again is probably the biggest power move of all for VMware, which has had to play nice with EMC and Dell, both essentially hardware companies, while at the same time trying to continue to be an innovator that moves at the speed of software.

By the numbers: 81 per cent: In Dell’s record breaking $67 billion purchase of EMC, it acquired an 81 per cent equity stake in VMware. According to the terms of the spin-off, the sale will generate an estimated $9.5 billion, which Dell will use to help pay down the massive debt it accrued in the original purchase.

Outlook: The relationship between Dell and VMware has always been something of a mismatch. VMware prided itself on operating independently, but it was still owned by Dell, its products were sold through Dell channels, and the two companies developed technologies together, such as hyper-converged infrastructure.

While VMware and Dell will continue their close working relationship, analysts say the spin-off will enable VMware to become more agile and the increased level of independence will allow it to potentially strike deals with Dell competitors.


3. Arista: Targeting the cloud with AI-driven security and networking

Why they’re here: Arista understands that simply gobbling market share from Cisco in the high-speed switching market and being overly dependent on revenue from Facebook and Microsoft isn’t a winning strategy for sustained growth over time.

The company is diversifying its product portfolio, taking aim at the campus switching market, providing network management, and moving into areas like security, IoT, and AI. Arista recently announced a Zero Trust offering based on network segmentation. And the days of emphasising speeds and feeds are in the rearview mirror; today Arista bills itself as a “cognitive cloud networking” company.

Power Moves: Purchased Awake Security, which provides AI-driven proactive threat detection for IOT campus networks.  

By the numbers: 16.3 per cent: Over the past decade, Arista’s market share in high-speed switching has climbed from 3.5 per cent to 16.3 per cent. Cisco’s has slid from 78.1 per cent in 2012 to 43.7 per cent in the first half of 2020.

Outlook: Under the steady leadership of Jayshree Ullal, one of the few women CEOs in tech, Arista has emerged from the pandemic in pretty good shape. The company reported a 27 per cent increase in first quarter revenue growth and healthy operating profits of nearly $200 million.

As Constellation Research analyst Holger Mueller puts it, “Arista Networks is great example of how good things happen when you have attractive products and manage a company commercially prudently during pandemic times.” He adds, “On the product side Arista is doing well with the focus on AI-powered security networking.”


4. Hewlett Packard Enterprise / Aruba: Stakes out leadership position in SASE

Why they’re here: HPE’s Aruba has assembled a powerful set of capabilities for enterprises that need to integrate wired and wireless LANs, edge infrastructure, and cloud access for branch offices and remote workers in a way that’s automated and secure.

Gartner puts Aruba in a leadership position in the wired/wireless LAN access market, pointing out that “the functionality of Aruba ClearPass (secure network access control) and AirWave (network management) continue to set the bar for the market,” adding that “Aruba continues to be an influencer of competitive trends in the market.”

Meanwhile HPE is advancing its GreenLake on-premises cloud, consumption-based offering with plans to offer every one of its services and products through GreenLake leasing by next year.

Power Moves: Bought SD-WAN powerhouse Silver Peak, one of the major challenger’s to Cisco’s dominance in the SD-WAN market.

By the numbers: $925 million: The amount that HPE (which bought Aruba six years ago) shelled out for Silver Peak.

Outlook: By integrating Silver Peak technology into its product lines, Aruba has emerged as a leader in the emerging SASE market, according to a new report from the 650 Group. And in its latest earnings report, HPE said that its Aruba-based intelligent-edge revenue was $806 million, up 12 per cent year over year. HPE said it expects Aruba “to continue to take share in both campus switching and WLAN.”

However, the outlook for Aruba became a little less clear in early June when co-founder and longtime CEO Keerti Melkote announced that he’s leaving the company after 19 years. In addition, Aruba’s longtime CTO Partha Narasimhan and Chief Architect Pradeep Iyer also left the company.

HPE has named Phil Mottram, the senior vice president of HPE’s Communications Group, to replace Melkote at CEO, and Silver Peak’s David Hughes will become chief product officer and CTO. One of Aruba’s strengths has been its stable leadership team, which has driven innovation for nearly two decades, so a shake-up of this magnitude is notable.

The fact that HPE selected someone from outside Aruba to take over is also notable. Melkote and his team managed to maintain Aruba’s independence within the HPE family, so that will be something to watch as the transition unfolds.


5. Extreme: Integrating recent acquisitions for future success

Why they’re here: Extreme went on an acquisition spree between 2016 and 2019 (Zebra Technologies for WLAN, Avaya’s networking business, Brocade’s switching, routing and analytics, Aerohive’s Wi-Fi 6 gear, SD-WAN software, and cloud management services). It has worked hard to integrate those products and technologies and to come out the other end with a coherent strategy.

According to Gartner, Extreme has “successfully” integrated the fruits of its acquisitions and rate it  as a leader in wired- and wireless-LAN access infrastructure. “Extreme delivers a broad portfolio of cloud-managed and on-premises managed network application and services in conjunction with its end-to-end wired switching and WLAN products,” says Gartner.

Power Moves: At its latest user conference, Extreme announced its overarching vision for the future, which is calls the Infinite Enterprise. The idea is that in our post-pandemic world the enterprise needs to accommodate the requirements of a global, hybrid workforce. The key tenets are distributed connectivity, scalable cloud and a consumer-centric user experience.

By the Numbers: 122 per cent: The year-over-year growth of the Extreme Cloud IQ cloud-management subscription service.

Outlook: If the latest fiscal quarter is any indication, Extreme is poised to cash in on its bet on cloud management, automation and AI. Revenue was up 21 per cent year-over-year and president and CEO Ed Meyercord is bullish: “Extreme is coming out of COVID in a stronger position than ever before, and enterprise customers are turning to Extreme’s industry-leading cloud solutions to meet the new demands of the distributed enterprise.”

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