As part of our Featured Series on Centec Networks, a white box switch provider and relative newcomer in the merchant silicon space, we reached out to Karl May, co-founder and CEO of Vello Systems, to learn about the success that Vello is seeing in the market and the important role that Centec Networks plays.
Vello is a privately held company providing innovative software networking solutions to enterprises and service providers. In this exclusive interview, we talk to May about how Vello has gained traction in the SDN marketplace, what it’s like to work with an underdog like Centec, and why partners like Centec are critical in the new world of SDN networking.
Vello Systems is one of the few SDN vendors with significant early traction in the marketplace. What problems does your company solve?
May: At a high level, we talk about the customer-defined network. Our core solution platform, VellOS, is a very robust software platform built on Linux that provides a set of core services for WAN orchestration tied to business policies. VellOS hosts an application framework called Connectivity Exchange and our service policy manager.
Specifically, we have customers today that use Connectivity Exchange to substantially improve their utilization of WAN links as well as offer new an innovative network-as-a-service (NaaS) solutions. Pacnet, a major service provider in Asia, leveraged the VellOS platform to build out a self-service solution for their customers that have improved utilization on their WAN (close to 95 percent) while bringing the convenience of Amazon AWS-style on-demand network provisioning.
What part of the network do you focus on?
May: Our insertion point is generally the edge. If you look at it, the cost of bandwidth at the edge is very, very high. For instance, we have a major banking customer who is now using our software and hardware from Centec that front ends a Juniper MX480. Instead of buying 22 expensive MPLS WAN links nationwide, from Redwood City, Calif., to Boston, they’re buying combinations of cheap Carrier Ethernet, dark fiber, wavelength services, etc.
We were able to take what was 22 MPLS services and reduce that to seven really, really low cost links. That gave them about a $4.5 million savings over three years. We achieved similar benefits at a major stock market exchange on the East Coast, by deploying VellOS with Centec’s white box switches as well.
What kind of connectivity does your solution manage at the edge? Are they typical switches? Specialized switches with optical connections?
May: They can be optical or copper. They tend to be Gigabit Ethernet and 10-Gb/s Ethernet switches. It depends. If you look at traditional routers, edge routers tend to be Gigabit Ethernet and 10-Gb/s Ethernet. Some core routers tend to be at higher rates. We’re providing an extended subset of the routing function, but all of that routing intelligence is running on Intel servers, on VellOS, and Connectivity Exchange.
For us, we’re augmenting these expensive routers with a much simpler, centralized application-specific policy manager that is front-ended by merchant hardware. For us, a device could be Open vSwitch, an Ethernet switch, or a DWDM device. In the case of Pacnet, we have a tremendous number of Centec devices that are deployed. We think of them as essentially part of a logical routing function, a logical router deployed through maybe 14 different data centers.
Where you have very expensive WAN links and can show this sort of savings, it’s material on the enterprise side. The same is true on the service provider side. With the Pacnet deployment, they had 22 data centers in 10 countries. We changed what had been a fixed, up-front capex investment to a more scalable opex investment. They’ve turned all these data centers into one big logical data center and created a customer-defined provider network as a service.
Why did you choose to work with Centec, a relative newcomer to the space, instead of using a more established vendor like Broadcom?
May: In fact, our customers choose the hardware vendors like Centec. We work closely with Centec — and others — to ensure that there is an end-to-end architecture that is deployment-ready. In almost all of our deployments to date, customers are deploying with other hardware vendors as well. We have developed a complete software stack for Broadcom silicon, for instance.
One of the clear benefits of Centec is complete integration. They own their silicon, build the system, and offer a high-quality product with a very strong feature set at an attractive price. Obviously, there are attendant risks with silicon. That becomes the long pole in the tent for getting a product out the door, but so far they’re doing a very good job.
Perhaps it is because they are small, but Centec has proved to be very fast — perhaps faster than others — at innovating, adding features and performance benefits to their products. They are hungry, responsive, and present a compelling roadmap to customers.
How do customers decide which vendors to put in bakeoffs?
May: In our case, we have 20 or 25 projects going simultaneously around the world. The customers come to us and ask us to give them a shortlist of devices they should test. We give them a list of certified devices, and then it’s their call.
Centec has been involved in several bakeoffs with us. Many of our customer deployments we’re working on are Gigabit Ethernet and experience with our customers has shown that they are absolutely best-in-class in Gigabit Ethernet deployments.
What do you think is the key takeaway for other companies in Centec’s position?
May: It’s important to recognize there has been a significant shift in the marketplace. That can be very difficult for people to get their heads around. It’s no longer about the old-school networking attitude of “Let me show you my product,” but rather, finding ways to enable applications and solutions.
Most of the decisions we see in the marketplace today are use-case-related decisions. It’s not about the product itself. They already expect that you’ll have high port density, low power, and all those other attributes, but the whole point is, they’re looking for the use case. Customers are asking questions around, “How are you going to implement my portal?” “How are you going to do the path computation?” “How are you going to make it easier for me to deploy my applications through my enterprise?”