This featured interview with Avi Networks CEO and Co-Founder, Umesh Mahajan, is a part of the ongoing ONUG CEO Corner Series.
In the last few years, the rise of cloud computing and its complexities has given rise to a crop of precocious start-ups, causing a gradual but dramatic shift in the networking industry.
Most enterprises, typically tied to older, hardware-based networking architectures, are weighed down by vendor lock-ins, computing silos, and exorbitant operational costs. The mix of cloud computing into this equation has raised serious security, scaling and monumental network management issues. This climate has made for a great opening for the start-ups rolling out comprehensive, secure, scalable, yet simple software defined networking solutions that work with hybrid cloud computing environments.
These companies, along with leading, established providers, are crucial to ONUG’s goal to bring SDN open solutions to the enterprise. In an effort to get a better understanding of the on-going vision of these start-up and incumbent providers, ONUG brings you the CEO Corner Series.
CEO and Co-Founder, Avi Networks
ONUG: What specific market need gave rise to Avi Networks?
Mahajan: Around the 2012 time-frame, we saw data centers undergoing a transition to hybrid, private and public cloud-like architectures, with a demand for a mobile-centric application experience in the enterprises, and fast roll out of applications. In fact, customers were starting to demand a solution in their private clouds or environments that mimicked what Amazon, Microsoft and Google offered in their clouds, but with a higher level of cost-efficient services with deeper features. Applications were not limited anymore to typical high-end enterprise resource planning solutions; a new generation of micro-service applications on smaller building blocks that required speed, agility and all-demand were showing up. We saw an opportunity in the Layer4-Layer7 space for a next-generation application architecture and delivery system that coupled with distributed but centrally- managed analytics could deliver micro-service applications at super-speed.
ONUG: How many customers do you have and what vertical sectors are they from?
Mahajan: While we have talked with hundreds of interested customers, we are now actively engaged with 20 customers with seven to eight of them in production. Some other very large enterprises are in pilots, and they will be in production in the next few months. Customers from the financial sector that are building private clouds with OpenStack have shown deep interest. In addition, high-tech customers who are building private clouds, regardless of whether they are in bare metal, OpenStack or VMware environments, are also showing keen interest. Finally, cloud service providers who are competing with Amazon, and Google, and are looking for software-defined data center approach, find Avi solution a good fit for their offering. Basically, we fit in perfectly with customers who are looking for agility, programmability, elasticity, and automation. Given that our product was commercially released only in December 2014, our customer base is growing well.
ONUG: Can you describe your architectural model and product portfolio?
Mahajan: Basically, enterprise customers needed the kind of architectures that hyper scale companies were rolling out. The IT enterprises did not have the skill sets and investment Amazon, Google and Microsoft had. That is where we came in.
Avi Networks has built the next-generation Application Delivery Controller (ADC) load balancer with comprehensive visibility and analytics.
Architecturally, we have taken a SDN-like (software-defined network) approach by separating the control and data planes. Avi product has one logical control plane which is our controller and a distributed data plane, consisting of micro load-balancer engines that also collect application-monitoring and log data.
As a result, the customer just has to go to a single point of management, and policy management control. For data plane handling, we have a distributed architecture that fires up our data plane engine. ONUG’s Network Services Virtualization working group has an architecture model that matches our approach.
ONUG: How is Avi different from other incumbents and start-ups who also claim to be delivering hyper scale- kind of capabilities to enterprises?
Mahajan: We don’t want to go a mile wide and an inch thick in terms of features what we offer. Thus, we have deep ADC features set along with real-time visibility and insights. With the integrated real-time analytics operational teams can drive to insure superior end-user experience.
We compete with incumbent vendors such as Citrix and F5, but essentially, we are a load balancer that balances the load, provides security, and accelerates applications. Next, we collect application metrics and logs to provide actionable insights to the network operator. In addition the analytics provide a feedback mechanism to scale out the load balancer and the back end applications. This is crucial for e-commerce applications that have heavy but sporadic loading, and our solution is one-of-a kind that solves those problems.
Incumbent traditional load balancers are not programmable, flexible or agile and thus, are not able to meet the needs of enterprises building private or hybrid clouds, and cloud service providers building public clouds. Incumbents lead with hardware, and any additional software they offer is not architected to meet the needs of cloud environments. Avi, on the other hand, has a completely software-driven architecture that perfectly meets enterprise emerging cloud infrastructure requirements.
We are unaware of any startups building similar solutions to Avi Networks. While there are numerous SDN startups, the ones who are out-of-stealth mode are focused on a different set of features to the best of our knowledge.
ONUG: Are there any cost savings associated with your solution?
Mahajan: Cost is very important to customers. First of all, we don’t ship any hardware. Our software runs on any x86 server, and shares the servers with other applications. With Avi, the customer has both upfront CapEx (capital expenditure) and significant OpEx (operational expenditure) savings.. In addition, our analytics and visibility solution enables the dashboard to send alerts and triggers to the operator about latency and traffic load. Today, operators do not know where to look for problems, and it could take days or even weeks to identify the problem. And, that could translate into weeks of operational expenditures spent in identifying the source of the trouble.
Essentially, our solution resonates with anyone who has a cloud infrastructure, and also with traditional virtualized data center deployments. You don’t need custom hardware and appliances with our ware, and even if you have legacy ADCs, we do not recommend a rip-and-replace strategy but, rather augment your ADC capacity for new applications with Avi next-generation ADC.
ONUG: What is your vision for Avi in the next three years, and as you start to scale, what are your biggest challenges to getting there?
Mahajan: Most importantly, we have to establish ourselves with key large brand customers, and become a leader in our space. Next, we have to show consistent growth for the next three years and not lose sight of innovation. We have a rich road map on the innovations side.
Further, we are much more North America-centric now but with time we will have to establish a global presence. How we become a global company is the next step for us. In addition, we will need to balance across customers’ demand for new features, and innovations that we want to roll out to change the existing paradigm. It would be a balancing act with large customers. Every month, we have a meeting to discuss which features to develop and which ones not to. We have to stay focused on our vision.
ONUG: Finally, how can Avi further ONUG’s goal of open solutions and interoperability?
Mahajan: We got going before ONUG’s NSV group came into being and are in agreement with the proposed model. Customers would like the different layers and features to work together – compute, storage, networking, and L4-L7 services. Further, they want to know how everything works together, and how do all these elements come under one umbrella. That is where we are looking to ONUG for leadership so that all different vendors can work together in an overall encompassing architecture. No one vendor is going to be able to provide all features that are needed. We are participating in the NSV and Traffic Monitoring working groups to validate the overall architecture and share our ideas.