Avi Networks entered the application delivery controller (ADC) scene more than two years ago, the brainchild of Cisco veterans who ditched Layer 2-3 services to focus on the Layer 4-7 stack, specifically application delivery. Its beginning was marked by the collective thought that three major trends – cloud, mobile, and application architecture – were rendering legacy app delivery models irrelevant.
As we reported last year, Avi enjoyed early success when it came to funding. Greylock and LightSpeed invested promptly, with Menlo Ventures following not far behind, giving Avi $33 million raised in two rounds. Then earlier this year, Avi added Mark Anderson — formerly an exec at ADC incumbent F5, now a senior vice president at Palo Alto Networks — to its board.
Avi Networks is using its money and expertise to deliver what it calls the next generation of ADC. What Avi has built is a 50-person company looking to software-defined networking (SDN) for the answers that it says other ADC vendors don’t have. Alongside Hydra, its distributed app delivery architecture, Avi’s Cloud Application Delivery Platform (CADP) takes on a purely software-based approach, a novel move for ADCs and load balancers.
Not Your Grandmother’s ADC
Like an SDN controller for Layer 4-7, Avi Networks’ ADC model enables control to be centralized while performed services can be located anywhere. The Hydra architecture includes Avi’s Inline Analytics software, which collects hundreds of metrics per second pertaining to device performance, location, user and network tracking, just to name a few. This information is fed to a data plane named Distributed Microservices that continually modifies performance, placement, and capacity of application delivery services.
That use of real-time analytics to morph services sets Avi apart, says Vice President of Marketing Dhritiman Dasgupta.
“Think of a Black Friday situation,” Dasgupta says. “They have to pre-provision for that peak scenario, but 99 percent of the year, that infrastructure isn’t being used.” By contrast, Avi can use the feedback loop of analytics to track activity in real-time and fire up more instances of the load balancer.
Avi also offers consumption-based pricing, something customers don’t stumble across that often in the Layer 4-7 market. Previous hardware-based options required customers to guess how many load balancers they would need, maybe buying a few extra just in case.
Of course, F5 says it knows software and cloud technologies just like Avi does. “The nuances of cloud-based delivery resonate heavily through F5’s array of platforms, flexible licensing models, and our tagline, ‘Leave No Application Behind,’” says Nathan Pearce, senior technical marketing manager at F5.
On the analytics side, F5 announced the BIG-IP Analytics Module in 2012. It tracks metrics including transactions per second, server latency, page load time, request and response throughput, and sessions.
F5 has its own pay-as-you-go application services, as well — the Cloud Licensing Program (CLP), also announced back in 2012. And it works with public cloud providers, allowing F5 to maintain a common delivery policy across a variety of clouds, Pearce says.
While Avi appreciates what others like F5 and A10 are doing, it still insists the competition’s approach isn’t going to cut it. The rise of cloud-based applications calls for an architecture catering specifically to mobile and multicloud environments, Avi says.
Moreover, Avi thinks it also outreaches other ADC vendors by having a more “SDN” approach.
“No other vendor has separated the planes like Avi,” says Dasgupta. “Others might have moved the management plane, but the control plane is still within these individual appliances. Each of these VMs still have their own control plane, which makes it very difficult for network admins.”
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, agrees… sorta. He is hesitant to say Avi is the only player in the software-based arena — but he does praise the company for tapping into cloud economics by offering consumption-based pricing.
Customers will look at Avi for that pricing model but will stick around because of Avi’s analytics, he says. Performance has always been a major factor when it comes to selecting any type of networking product, but if agility is what a customer is looking for, especially aligned with SDN, Avi is a clear choice, Kerravala says.
Taking a Hint From Hyperscale
Avi garnered a lot of inspiration from the usual suspects in the hyperscale arena — Google, Amazon, Netflix — where interest in a traditional method has dwindled in favor of a software-based model, Dasgupta says. But while the Googles and Facebooks of the world can build their own app delivery infrastructures in-house, enterprises don’t have that luxury. Avi hopes to bring a hyperscale feel to the enterprise ADC market.
Avi also claims the incumbent ADC vendors will have a hard time moving to a 100 percent software model.
“Some incumbents have an extremely healthy margin of business for hardware appliances,” Dasgupta says. “For a company like that, why would it cannibalize its hardware market for a software model?”
F5, for its part, already is a software company, Pearce says.
“Sure, we make hardware for those services and throughputs that don’t scale well on general-purpose server technology, but our focus is on the performance availability, and security of applications, whichever the platform,” he says.
Despite Avi Networks’ adamancy, Kerravala says traditional ADC isn’t going away. The breadth and depth of F5’s application services, and its collaborations with other leaders like Microsoft and Cisco, are why F5 will continue being an ADC driver.