On March 31 Arista announced it will offer its EOS operating system as a subscription license separate from its switch hardware.  While the rest of the industry is realizing disaggregation of hardware and software for the sake of customer choice and innovation, Arista’s “disaggregation” is only a new pricing model. Arista hardware and its EOS operating system remain locked. Customer choice is limited to pricing models.

That is not open networking. And it’s not what customers need. This is an open pricing model at the best.

Currently Arista sells its hardware and software as a single bundle, but with this new pricing model, Arista claims it gives customers a better way to balance their CapEx and OpEx budgets. Arista also says this will let customers scale their cloud deployments as they want, paying for their network resources only as they consume them and — given the subscription service — helping them avoid exorbitant upfront investments.

Disaggregation?

Is Arista opening their pricing model because of growing industry support for open networking? Their announcement nods towards a “disaggregated offering,” but EOS still requires Arista hardware, and Arista switches still require EOS. Customers can buy the hardware/software components separately, but they still can’t run a different OS on Arista hardware or use Arista’s EOS on a white box switch. This is much the same as what Cisco did in January with the announcement of its ONE Software strategy to separate software and hardware licensing — a half-hearted effort to dip its toes in the water of open networking without any real substance, and not really offering customers much more choice than what they already have.

Separating Fact from Fiction

Arista claims that the new pricing is designed primarily for cost-constrained tier 2 and tier 3 cloud providers. But are they really saving? Maybe not so much. Arista customers will pay around $6,000 annually for software, compared to a one-year Cumulus Linux license for $699 (1G), $999 (10G), or $1299 (40G.) Big difference. When asked about whether they plan to support ONIE or offer EOS on hardware other than its own, Arista’s response was that there have been no customer requests for this. Looking at the price difference and the growing adoption of open networking, you would have to question whether this is true. Is Arista locking customers into its hardware/software because that’s what they want, or because it allows exorbitant vendor markups on the software? Could they support open networking from a technology standpoint if the right customers asked for it?  Would they?

So Why Announce Anything “Open” at All?

I’ve been pondering Arista’s reasoning behind this decision. I think that they see open networking is happening, but just aren’t ready to commit yet. The open approach to networking taken by Dell, HP and of course yours truly (Cumulus Networks) is gaining real traction. It’s here to stay; I think Arista realizes that, and I applaud them for taking any first step. By making this move they acknowledge that hardware needs to be separate from software. Now, I’d encourage them to take the next logical step and offer EOS customers more hardware choice in the form of open networking and brite-box supported systems so that their “disaggregation” isn’t just about a pricing model.