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Baptist Health leaves Cisco for Arista

Baptist Health in Jacksonville, Fla., expects Arista's single wired, wireless and data center network operating system to eliminate partial outages during infrastructure upgrades.

Two years ago, Baptist Health started replacing Cisco with Arista Networks for the software and hardware running the wired and wireless LAN across its medical campus. The reason for the switch? Cisco made network maintenance too hard for IT staff.

The Jacksonville, Fla., medical center expects to finish the transition in three years by replacing its wired infrastructure, including Cisco Catalyst switches, with Arista hardware. To date, Baptist Health has swapped 90% of its wireless infrastructure, which includes Cisco Meraki access points and devices. The healthcare organization estimates it will spend $10 million with Arista over five years.

The critical difference between Cisco and Arista is the latter's single code base across the data center as well as wired and wireless campus networks, said Jim Bilsky, vice president of enterprise IT operations at Baptist Health. The Arista architecture lets Baptist Health perform updates and other maintenance without taking down network portions.

"That's a huge, huge win, since getting maintenance windows in hospitals is extremely painful," Bilsky said. "That's because hospitals never close. They're always open for business."

Cisco did not respond to a request for comment.

Arista's switches run on a single operating system, the Linux-based Extensible Operating System. Cisco has various OSes, making it impossible to roll out updates across all networks simultaneously. As a result, Baptist Health's IT department had to contend with multiple versions of network operating systems running various product code versions, Bilsky said.

Unlike Cisco, Arista is not a leader in Gartner's latest Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Wired and Wireless LAN Infrastructure. But its strengths include the CloudVision management platform that unifies maintenance across the data center and campus switching, according to Gartner.

Cisco's strengths include a vast wired and wireless product portfolio covering various use cases. Its weaknesses include overlapping product lines and two separate management platforms, DNA Center and the Meraki Dashboard.

Peer Insights, a Gartner poll of enterprise technology users, found Arista with a slightly higher overall rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars versus Cisco's 4.6. Users dinged Arista for having fewer switching commands and reported that Cisco was "very complex to configure a simple task."

Baptist Health and CloudVision

Bilsky said Arista CloudVision is a significant plus for Baptist Health, because it provides a network roadmap across the institution's six hospitals, three freestanding emergency departments, and roughly 75 outpatient care and physician offices. Monitoring networks through a single user interface is a significant plus, he added.

Jim Bilsky, vice president of enterprise IT operations, Baptist HealthJim Bilsky

Like other network management consoles, CloudVision lets IT departments drill down to any devices on the network -- including access points, smartphones, tablets and PCs -- to troubleshoot problems.

"The communication between the device and the access point is all monitored," Bilsky said. "We can see all that data granularly and then troubleshoot and react to it faster."

Last week, Arista introduced network access control for CloudVision to authenticate and secure devices logging onto a network. Arista plans to make the technology, named the Arista Guardian for Network Identity, generally available by the end of the quarter.

Bilsky said he expects to eventually replace Cisco's Identity Services Engine with Arista's identity service. Besides identifying typical mobile devices, Baptist Health's wireless networks must also authenticate a few medical devices, like electroencephalograms and Moxi, a robot on wheels carrying supplies, medicine, lab samples and lightweight equipment to hospital medical staff.

Most of Baptist Health's equipment, such as EKGs or surgical gear, is connected to the wired network, which doesn't have the signal fluctuations of wireless technology.

"We don't want to introduce those variables if it's patient care critical," Bilsky said.

The fewer vendors, the better

The massive transition between vendors reflects Baptist Health's preference for using a single platform for networking and other technology categories rather than deploying multiple vendors based on feature quality.

The benefit of working with as few vendors as possible is cost management, Bilsky said. The more extensive the contract, the more sway the customer has over the vendors. Having more vendors also increases the likelihood of overlapping features.

"I end up owning two or three of the same things," Bilsky said. "It also helps us strategically with those partners because we can become closer [to them] because we have more products."

Reducing IT costs is a constant for Bilsky. That's because he often can't get funding to replace aging equipment if it's competing with gear for patient care.

"I have to justify why that new whiz-bang MRI that's going to save a patient's life is less important than x-amount of dollars to replace a switch that no one understands what it does anyway," Bilsky said.

Antone Gonsalves is networking news director for TechTarget Editorial. He has deep and wide experience in tech journalism. Since the mid-1990s, he has worked for UBM's InformationWeek, TechWeb and Computer Reseller News. He has also written for Ziff Davis' PC Week, IDG's CSOonline and IBTMedia's CruxialCIO, and rounded all of that out by covering startups for Bloomberg News. He started his journalism career at United Press International, working as a reporter and editor in California, Texas, Kansas and Florida. Have a news tip? Please drop him an email.

Tech News This Week 05-26-2023

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