In the era of multicloud computing, enterprise networking companies have played a greater role than ever before. As the cloud has matured, so has the software-defined data center, and software-defined networking (SDN) has emerged at the center of the industry, though it hasn’t completely replaced legacy frameworks.
Today’s networking tools allow organizations to assign and manage resources more dynamically, intelligently and easily—often through increased automation and AI, and improved monitoring. All of this has led to a more agile, flexible and cost-effectively framework for managing a digital enterprise.
Yet, a dizzying array of choices exist. Although all networking products and solutions presumably address the same general tasks—centralizing complex management and administrative functions and improving manageability—the way products work varies greatly. This includes various features that vendor’s offer, how network management tools interact with other IT systems, troubleshooting and security capabilities built into products, and, most importantly, understanding the specific needs of an organization.
Choosing the right networking provider is critical. As SDN becomes a centerpiece for the industry, it’s important to understand how various solutions approach networking, including whether a vendor uses a standard approach or places a hypervisor over a virtual network. In addition, it’s important to determine how well a product adheres to an open and interoperable framework—including open source standards. Below we look at 10 of the top vendors in the enterprise networking space along with some of the key features and capabilities they offer.
- HPE/Aruba Networks
- Arista Networks
- Cisco Systems
- Cumulus Networks
- Dell EMC
- Extreme Networks
- Juniper Networks
- Riverbed Technology
How to Select a Networking Company
The networking market is incredibly complicated and confusing. Dozens of vendors compete for mind share and market share. Adding to the challenge: every organization has different requirements and each solution approaches the task of networking in different ways. A software defined networking (SDN) becomes more popular, this adds to the decision-making process. In some cases, differences among vendors, products and approaches are subtle—yet exceptionally important. Here are five key things to consider when making a selection:
1. Does the vendor support the flexibility and agility you require? While all vendors promise a high level of flexibility and agility, it's not so simple to sort everything out. Success depends on your existing infrastructure—including branch offices—and how well the current environment matches with the vendor's solution. This means taking an inventory of your current environment and understanding how the solution will change—and improve—processes. Interoperability, APIs, and support for frameworks like BiDi and SWDM might factor into the situation.
2. Does the vendor's products and solutions rank among the top? While high marks from industry analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester are no guarantee of success, they serve as an excellent benchmark for understanding where a vendor resides a among its peers, what features stand out and where a vendor lags behind the pack. Magic Quadrant and Wave reports also inject objectivity into what can become a subjective and sometimes emotional process. It's also wise to read peer reviews at various professional sites and trade information with others in your industry.
3. How does the cost vs. value equation play out? The cheapest solution isn't necessarily the best, of course. Your goal should be to understand switching costs and find the sweet spot on the return on investment (ROI) curve. What tradeoffs are you willing to make to save money? Which features and capabilities are non-negotiable? How do the economics play out over years? Which solution can unlock the connectivity you require to be an innovator or disruptor?
4. Is the vendor a good long-term partner? A number of factors that can fly below the radar are critical when selecting a vendor. Among them: financial stability, roadmap and vision, and customer support. The latter can be critical. You should have a clear point of contact with the company, and this person should be highly accessible. If you can't get a strong commitment upfront, this could be a problem Regardless, it's wide to lock down key issues and service levels with a service level agreement (SLA).
5. Who and what does the vendors support? The days of selecting a single vendor for everything are pretty much over. In all likelihood, you will need networking products and solutions that span geographic locations, datacenters, clouds and more. In addition, it's likely that you will have to mix and match some products. Do the vendor's offerings play nicely with others? Do they adhere to industry standards? Do they support open source? Security standards?
Top Networking Companies
Value Proposition: HPE-Aruba consistently ranks at the top of the enterprise networking space and is known for its focus on unified networks. Aruba ranked as a “Leader” in the 2019 Magic Quadrant for the Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure Report from Gartner and the clear leader in the Forrester New Wave Wireless Solutions, Q3 2019 report.
Summary: Aruba delivers SDN to scale along with an end-to-end interface. It offers zero-touch provisioning and end-to-end orchestration within a single pane of glass. It handles automated policy enforcement for users, devices and apps on both wired and wireless networks. The platform also supports a high level of programmability through Python scripting and APIs, and a variety of cloud tools designed to streamline IT operations and boost performance in SD-WANs. Users rank the company high for usability, configurability and security. Aruba recently acquired Silver Peak Systems, a leader in the SD-WAN space. The platform unifies SD-WAN, firewall, segmentation, routing, WAN optimization and more—with advanced orchestration and lifecycle automation, self-learning capabilities through machine learning, and more.
Value Proposition: Arista promotes the concept of “cognitive networking” and clouds through SDN. It supports unified edge systems across wired and wireless networks through a portfolio of products. The company is ranked as a “Leader” in the Q3 2020 Forrester Wave for Open, Programmable Switches for Businesswide SDN.
Summary: The vendor offers a variety of products and solutions designed for enterprise networking. Its Cognitive Campus solution optimizes cloud performance using an analytics-driven approach that focuses heavily on security, visibility, and location-based services. The software-driven approach aims to reduce networking complexity, improve reliability and performance through automation, and boost network monitoring and security functions. The vendor’s Cognitive Management Plane incorporates artificial intelligence and a data-driven repository to automate numerous actions.
Value Proposition: Cisco is an undisputed leader in networking, and it offers products for almost every possible organization and business need, from carrier grade equipment to enterprise datacenter solutions. Gartner ranks Cisco among the “Leaders” in its Q3 Magic Quadrant for WAN Edge infrastructure.
Summary: Cisco Digital Network Architecture is at the heart of the company’s offerings. Cisco DNA relies on a software-delivered approach to automate systems and assure services within a campus and across branch networks and WANs. It is designed to work across multi-cloud environments, with AI/ML tools to automate, analyze, and optimize performance and thwart security threats. Key components include automation, analytics, behavioral tools, SD-WAN and other software defined offerings designed for both Ethernet and wireless. In addition, the company receives high marks for its switches, routers, wireless hardware and software, SD-WAN products and enterprise network security tools.
Value Proposition: Cumulus Networks, now part of NVIDIA, delivers real-time visibility, troubleshooting and lifecycle management functions as part of its Cumulus NetQ solution. The vendor ranked among the “leaders of the pack” in the Forrester Wave Q3 2020 Open Programmable Switches for a Businesswise SDN.
Summary: Cumulus promotes a “holistic” approach to networking. With roots in the Linux world, it delivers a high level of automation without specialized hardware. Forrester describes the approach as an “app-dev perspective.” Cumulus includes a robust set of tools and controls that tackle advanced telemetry, deep analytics and lifecycle management. For example, NetQ uses specialized agents to collect telemetry data across an entire network and provide real-time insight, including state changes for data centers. Diagnostics tools allow administrators to trace network paths, replay network state at a specific timepoint in the past and review fabric-wide event change logs. The platform supports rich scripting and configuration tools.
Value Proposition: Dell EMC offers a robust and highly rated portfolio of enterprise networking solutions. The company received a Customer’s Choice 2019 award from Gartner Peer Insights for its data center and cloud networking products. Users gave the company high marks for powerful capabilities and excellent support.
Summary: The company offers a wide array of enterprise networking products and solutions, including Ethernet switches, wireless gear, smart fabric management software, services for fabric automation, network operating systems and various products and tools that facilitate SDN. Dell EMC also focuses on maximizing connectivity at the edge with integrated hardware and software solutions for SD-WAN and clouds. This enables autonomous fabric deployment, expansion and lifecycle management for software-defined infrastructures. The company aims to “meet the demands of modern workloads and virtualization environments while greatly simplifying deployments and management” through a single pane of glass.
Value Proposition: The company offers switching, routing, analytics, security and wireless management solutions. Gartner has ranked the vendor a “Leader” in its 2019 Magic Quadrant for Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure.
Summary: The Extreme Networks product line is defined by Extreme Cloud IQ, a platform that automates end-to-end, edge-to-datacenter network operations through the use of AI and machine learning. It is designed to scale to more than 10,000 managed devices per wireless appliance and includes comparative analytics and ML-driven scorecards. Extreme Management Center provides on-premises network management for wired and wireless networks from the edge to the data center. Extreme Campus Controller delivers wired and wireless orchestration for campus and IoT networks.
Value Proposition: Juniper Networks has established itself as an innovator and leader in the enterprise networking space. The company ranked as a “Leader” in Gartner’s 2020 Magic Quadrant for Data Center and Cloud Networking as well as The Forrester Wave for Open, Programmable Switches for a Businesswide SDN, Q3 2020. Juniper also received a Customer’s Choice 2019 Award from Gartner.
Summary: Juniper Networks places a heavy emphasis on smart automation within a single, consistent operating system, from the data center to the edge. It receives high marks for manageability and simplicity. Juniper offers a wide array of enterprise networking products and solutions designed for nearly any requirement. This includes equipment for switching, routing, wireless, packet optical, SDN and network security. These solutions address enterprise requirements for enterprise WAN, campus networking, datacenter, cloud-native, multi-cloud, 5G and IoT. The vendor’s Contrail Networking solution is entirely focused on SDN.
Value Proposition: NetScout offers a full spectrum of products and solutions designed to support digital transformation, managed services and digital security. It has received recognition from Gartner, Forrester and IDC for its networking management solutions.
Summary: Netscout prides itself on delivering complete visibility within networks and clouds, as well as real-time actionable intelligence using machine learning and smart analytics. These tools help organizations gain deeper visibility into data centers, cloud frameworks, performance issues and security risks. One of the vendor’s strengths is its technology partners, which including AWS, VMware, Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco Systems. Netscout supports numerous vertical industries, including healthcare, retail, transportation, financial services and government.
Value Proposition: Riverbed boasts that it serves 99% of the Fortune 100. It has been recognized more than 15 times as a “Leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant. The vendor offers a wide range of solutions designed for the enterprise networking market.
Summary: The company focuses on four key factors: performance, applications, visibility and networks. It achieves results through WAN Optimization, Application Acceleration, Software-Defined WAN and Network Performance Management modules. The Riverbed Network and Application Performance Platform is designed to “visualize, optimize, accelerate and remediate the performance of any network for any application.” The open platform effectively ties together performance management, WAN optimization, application acceleration and SD-WAN solutions. Another Riverbed product, Steelhead, delivers a technology foundation for maximizing and optimizing the efficiency and performance of the networks and applications, including SaaS products. The focus is on network performance and efficiency through data streamlining, transport streamlining, application streamlining and elastic performance.
Value Proposition: VMware was a pioneer in virtualization products and solutions. Over two decades, it has distinguished itself as an industry leader with its focus on supporting multi-cloud environments, virtual cloud networking and solutions designed to support digital business.
Summary: The company offers solutions for numerous industry verticals, including retail, healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, education and government. It has numerous partnerships that make it an attractive choice for enterprise. A core tenant for VMware is building a digital foundation. VMware Tanzu offers products and services designed to modernizing applications and infrastructure. This includes building cloud-native apps, advancing existing apps, and running and managing Kubernetes in Multiple Clouds. VMware’s Virtual Cloud Network provides a seamless, secure, software-defined networking layer from the data center to the cloud and onto the edge. The company’s VMware VRNI, which is designed to troubleshoot network issues and security, is highly rated among reviewers at Gartner Peer Insights.