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Bechtolsheim: The server is not the network

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HPC on Wall Street Andy Bechtolsheim knows a thing or two about servers, storage, and networking. He co-founded workstation and server maker Sun Microsystems as well as two networking companies: one that he sold to Cisco and became the basis of its Gigabit Ethernet biz, and another that he recently started and runs while working one day a week at Sun.

And when he gives one of the keynote addresses at today's HPC on Wall Street event in New York, one of the themes will be that there is lots of room for innovation among stand-alone network equipment providers.

Prior to the event, Bechtolsheim took some time to yack on the phone with El Reg about his company, Arista Networks, which is carving out a niche for itself as a supplier of 10 Gigabit Ethernet products that have the low latency and low cost that supercomputer and other high-performance computing shops - particularly the financial services firms running trading and market data systems where every microsecond counts.

Bechtolsheim has a longer and deeper history in networking than he does in servers at this point, and he's well aware of how the two play off each other in various computing environments. He was working as a PhD student on a project to integrate networking interfaces with microprocessors while at Stanford University when he was tapped by Sun's other co-founders, Scott McNealy and Vinod Khosla, to be the upstart's first chief technology officer.

He stuck around Sun as CTO until 1995, when he left to start a company called Granite Systems, which made Gigabit Ethernet switches and which was flipped a little more than a year later when Bechtolsheim sold it to Cisco Systems. The Granite Systems products eventually evolved into the Catalyst 4000 series of switches at Cisco, and Bechtolsheim was the general manager of this product line at Cisco.

In 2001, Bechtolsheim caught the entrepreneurial bug again, and he saw the InfiniBand switched fabric as the next place to make some money and have a technological impact. And so he founded another startup called Kealia, which created the "Galaxy" line of Opteron-based blade servers, the "Magnum" monster InfiniBand switch, and the "Thumper" X4500 storage servers that came to market individually after Sun bought Kealia in early 2004 and made Bechtolsheim CTO of its server biz. The original vision that Kealia had, of course, was for an integrated blade and storage platform with an InfiniBand backbone, something Sun is selling as the Constellation System to HPC and media streaming customers.

While Sun was busily peddling the Constellation System and open sourcing its entire software stack, including Solaris and Java, Bechtolsheim caught the entrepreneurial bug yet again, and this time was smitten by 10 Gigabit Ethernet. As El Reg reported last October when Arista came out of startup mode, while Bechtolsheim was still at Sun - and with its permission - he started up a 10GE switching company originally called Arastra. Last fall, the company changed its name to Arista Networks just as he hired Jayshree Ullal, formerly senior vice president of the datacenter, switching, and services group at Cisco, to be president and chief executive officer with Bechtolsheim reprising his role as CTO and founder.

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