Hardware vendors like Cisco and Nokia are tweaking their existing hardware and software to do SD-WAN. What do you think of that approach?
Ahuja: It’s a hot market and everyone’s going to do everything they can to go after it. There are customers who want those vendors to do something in this space. I know exactly what Cisco and Nokia and even Juniper are doing. The question is ‘what do the customers need and how are we addressing that?’ None of them have a true NFV-based approach to solving this with managed networking and managed security infused together with a cloud-native model. They all are going to do and go after different segments of the market and of course take their solutions to their existing customers. It’s in their best interests to do that.
Orange Business Services and BT have both said their enterprise customers don’t want to deploy more boxes at the branch. Is this a hurdle for vendors like Versa?
Ahuja: We’re not out there to force customers to replace what they already have if it’s there and working. We’re a software-based solution. We easily integrate with any other vendor’s equipment. If they have an ISR [integrated service router] at the branch, great, we can either sit in it if they have a UCS blade or server blade, or beside it on a server the customer might have. Or if they want an appliance, they can buy an appliance, and we’ll sit inside that as well. We can actually reduce the number of other boxes besides the router that they might have at the branch such as a next-gen firewall or UPN or other devices. We can help them reduce those down into software.
It seems like SD-WAN is in the super-hype phase right now. But that won’t last forever. When the hype subsides, what then for SD-WAN?
Ahuja: You’re going to see many different ways to market. Some will offer this as a SaaS-based offer. Others will offer as a managed service. I think the name of the game for the next year is to get the right design wins, with the right providers who can leverage this technology to offer services to their end customers. We’re focused on getting those design wins, whether it’s with a CenturyLink or others, because that’s our primary route to market. Think of us as an IP services company, helping them build services around that and go capture revenue. I predict that by the end of next year, you’re going to have a lot of service providers globally that don’t currently offer SD-WAN services have that as part of their portfolio. They could be global, regional, local and they even could be non-traditional telcos.
AT&T and Verizon are building telco clouds. It seems as if this step is necessary for them before they can really take advantage of virtualization. In terms of SDN in general, do you think service providers are a little behind the curve?
Ahuja: A couple of years ago I was talking to a customer at Mobile World Congress, and they said ‘just because you virtualize stuff doesn’t mean you solve my problem. Virtualized chaos is still chaos. Just because you take something that was sitting on an appliance and put in on a server, you’ve actually made my life more difficult. Before, there was a physical wire to it. It was integrated. I could troubleshoot it. Now in this virtual world, I don’t even know which VM it sits on, or which server it sits on, or how to troubleshoot it.’
The deployment model and the operational models have to change. There are different views: does it save you money in the near term or not? It does give you agility and elasticity that can help save money in the long run. That’s been clear feedback from most of the carriers. The other piece is where do they apply it? They’re not going to do it in places where they already have infrastructure. One place they’re doing SDN first is data centers because they’re building out data centers to house billing systems or applications or new services. In terms of timing and ability, SDN is first in the data center. It is now hitting the WAN, and that’s how they’re going to embrace SDN into the next phase.