ONUG CEO Corner Series: Interview with Viptela Co-Founder and CEO Amir Khan

This featured interview with Viptela CEO, Amir Khan, 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.


Amir Khan

Co-Founder & CEO, Viptela 


ONUG: What specific networking problem did the founders of Viptela try to solve?

Khan: Network traffic patterns needed better performance as a result of the cloud environment and mobility. Meanwhile, business users at work expected the kind of high speeds and broadband that they enjoyed at home. However, enterprise infrastructures had not evolved to keep up with these demands in more than fifteen years. IT infrastructures were restricted to older Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) transport capabilities, causing poor performance.

The ability to utilize multiple transports, including MPLS, Internet and mobile infrastructure, was non-existent.  We believe enterprise WANs should be transport-agnostic and be able to utilize any type of transport with security. It was very cumbersome when we started. We interviewed a lot of customers, and they indicated the need for centralized or regionalized fire-wall type of services. The bottom line was customers needed a completely secure infrastructure that could support multiple transports, was simple to scale, stabilize and trouble shoot. That is the basics of how Viptela got started.

ONUG: Did these requests come from a certain sector of customers?

Khan: Our technology uses building blocks that can address a broad market. The financial sector wants security and cost-efficiency; healthcare providers need security and operational ease, while for retailers, cost is central. We looked at all sectors, and came up with a solution that is generally applicable to all of them.

ONUG: It is reported that enterprise WAN costs account for nearly 75% of the networking budget. Given that, can you explain the cost and feature benefits of deploying the Viptela solution?

Khan: Generally, customers are experiencing overall cost savings of  nearly  50% with the Viptela solution and for some, it is as much as 70%-75%. WAN costs represent a big chunk of enterprise network spending because MPLS is the only transport that is currently available to meet their needs.  With the Viptela  offering, customers can combine any of three WAN circuits anywhere, giving them better negotiating power with their service providers.

ONUG: Talking about MPLS, how does your solution affect MPLS implementations and customer lock-in of that transport?

KHAN: MPLS is a carrier-branded service, and cannot be offered by anyone else. Even though it would be less expensive to supplement MPLS with broadband connections, combining multiple transport methods was not easily achievable until now. Viptela has painted the whole network infrastructure with a single brush to provide the capability of a single IT fabric across any type of transport, whether it is MPLS, broadband, or wireless LTE. We enable customers to negotiate with the service providers the optimal cost for MPLS that works for them.

That does not mean MPLS is going away anytime soon because there are some specific SLAs associated with MPLS that customers want to have. Some customers who have deployed our solution have maintained one MPLS connection, and combined it with one or two broadband connections, and maybe some LTE connectivity. We also have customers who see no benefit from MPLS, and choose to go with multiple broadband connections.

At the end of the day, our goal is to help end customers  fulfill their requirements.  Consequently, we are also partnering with carriers to enable them to offer hybrid connectivity on a large scale to their end customers.

ONUG: What is at the core of your solution. and how do you deliver complex capabilities in a simple manner?

Khan: The core is called Secure Extensible Network, and it ensures that every single control plane or data-plane packet that goes out on the WAN side is encrypted. This is a first for the networking industry. It is very clean and seamlessly integrated to provide trust and reliability.

ONUG: SD-WAN space is becoming crowded with several start-up solutions. How does Viptela differentiate its portfolio from competitors?

Khan: It is good to see multiple start-up and incumbent vendors jump into the SD-WAN space. Our focus has been to provide a robust, flexible, and secure wide area network infrastructure. The Viptela solution connects public and private (cloud) environments ensuring comprehensive segmented security. You cannot replace existing infrastructures, and so we use rich policy controllers that can translate business logic into what the network can understand at a click of a button. Before Viptela, IT managers had to deploy policies at every node.

Most of the competitive solutions offer automated configurations. Our portfolio, however, provides policies built around application SLAs that through security, performance and VNC (virtual network computing) requirements, provides the best path through the underlying network fabric. Then, we automate on top of this robust infrastructure to simplify management and operational ease. In contrast, other solutions merely automate the configuration of existing infrastructures. This is also essential, but it is a small part of the solution. Finally, Viptela can be deployed in an incremental simple manner, and our whole solution can be brought up in two hours.

Another major cost factor relates to the truck roll where you have to ship a product that needs to be picked up, installed, configured and brought up. The cost becomes significant for international customers and can be as much as the capital expenditures of buying the equipment. In Viptela’s case, our product uses zero-touch provisioning at remote sites.

We also use time-tested proven components such as routing, TLS (Transport Layer Security), IP, VPN (virtual private network), and subnets that have been used by enterprise carrier networks for the last 15 years for scalability and high availability. Basically, with our solution, carriers wanting to offer hybrid services do not have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build new infrastructures; instead, they can offer new services using their existing underlying network.

ONUG: What is your vision for Viptela in the next three years, and what are some of the challenges you face as you grow?

Khan: The value proposition of SDN is not limited to data center WANs or CAPEX; its value lies elsewhere. So far, we have taken a complex WAN problem and simplified it. The same can be done to other infrastructure problems including campus networks which still run on the (older) Spanning Tree Protocol. There are complexities in running SSL environments to bring in remote users. Customers need a comprehensive solution that is stable, well-tested, predictable and completely virtualizes their environments. That is our goal.

ONUG: Do you have off-shore developments?

Khan: We don’t believe in off-shore development at this stage of the company.

ONUG: Are your solutions open-source based, and how do you contribute to open solutions that ONUG promotes?

Khan: To innovate, one has to look for new ways to do things. We are all about standards. In the past two and a half years, ONUG has given us the opportunity to demonstrate that we interoperate with existing infrastructures with pieces that are proprietary and others that are standards-based. New use-cases that come about at ONUG allow us to develop capabilities that are customer-driven, and that will eventually lead to open standards.

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