An SDN Game Changer? Arista Taps Mark Smith to Lead Worldwide Sales

Mark Smith joins Arista

Announced a few weeks back – with little notice in the SDN world — Arista tapped Mark Smith as SVP of Worldwide Sales Operations.   More so than most 2012 SDN hires – Mark’s joining Arista may be an event we point to where software-defined networking (SDN) started going commercial.

In full disclosure, Mark is one of my most favorite people and a mentor.   As one of the two people (the other being my father) who contributed the most at my go-to-market, channels, and the challenges achieving market adoption for networking products at scale education — I have tremendous respect for Mark, whom I worked with Netscreen and Juniper.

In this hire, Arista may have one of the few people who understands the intersection of networking hardware and enterprise software sales.  Mark’s years at 3Com, Netscreen, and Juniper are rationale enough to hire him to lead sales at Arista.  Nevertheless, it’s his more recent gig at Infoblox where he had to build a sales force that could deal with long enterprise (and service provider) software sales cycles while predictably closing the number each quarter in a rather un-sexy software market (DNS/DHCP software) that makes him a killer hire for Arista.  It also makes him the right person to lead a sales organization focused on selling SDN capabilities.

If you believe Arista’s claim that one of their key differentiators is their software (EOS) combined with the hire of Tom Black from Cisco to lead SDN development – and Mark to lead sales — you realize that Arista is positioning themselves to be a leader in enterprise (and service provider) networking software.

This means a couple of things:

  • Arista is building the corporate DNA to build and sell networking ‘apps’ which based on our SDNCentral and Wiretap experience is how customers are starting to look to procure networking solutions.
  • I stick with my previous prediction that Arista (along with every other networking company) is writing their own centralized software control plane (i.e controller) that integrates with EOS.  EOS already has many APIs today – and we should expect more.  (Note – I haven’t spoke with anyone at Arista about this – this is just my speculation).
  • Arista can afford to (and is) playing the long game (check out our interview of Arista’s CEO).  As Mark knows from 6+ years at Infoblox – software markets take a while to mature.  Much like the DNS / DHCP market– it’s highly possible that in SDN it will take a long time for a killer app(s) to evolve that uniquely solves a compelling business problem for which customers are willing to repeatably pay money for.  Arista has the time and money to wait for the market to evolve (unlike venture backed networking software companies who need to get to revenue ASAP for their investors).
  • Arista competitors need to figure out how to inject and retain software sales capabilities into their organizations.
  • Start-ups who want to play in an SDN ecosystem need to add value by generating new sales to new customers for prospective partners, like an Arista (or any large networking company) – before you ask establish companies to partner with your start-up and expect them to invest resources promoting or jointly selling a new product with little market pull.  Focus your efforts on getting customers on your own and prospective partners, like Arista, will seek you out to get your apps running on their platform.

To sum it up – 2013 may or may not be the year SDN takes off  (we need get past budgets and myths)– though with Arista’s hire of Mark Smith – the networking product sales inches closer to becoming more like software sale – with Arista a likely innovator in how next generation networking is taken to market.

Check out more about Arista Networks on SDNCentral: (our favorite is an Interview with Jayshree Ullal, Arista Networks CEO)

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