With the rise of automation, SD-WAN is steadily disrupting the enterprise networking market. The COVID-19 pandemic has now thrust SD-WAN technologies further into the spotlight. Participants in this sector have taken many approaches, and one of the more independent paths has been charted by Aryaka. With us today to talk about Aryaka’s approach to the SD WAN marketplace are Shashi Kiran, CMO, and David Ginsburg, VP Product and Solutions Marketing.
TR: What are your backgrounds and how did you get to where you are today with Aryaka?
DG: I’ve been in the company about a year. My background is electrical engineering, but I came up through project management, product marketing and corporate marketing. I am responsible for product and solutions marketing, i.e., how we characterize our solutions to prospects, customers, analysts and partners and how we bring in various partner technologies to complete the pictures. For example, we work with Palo Alto for implementation of their virtual firewall on our ANAP, which is our SD-WAN branch device.
SK: I’ve been with the company since January of 2019. I have been with a few startups as well as larger companies like Cisco and Nortel. I was fortunate to recruit Dave and Hugo Vliegen, who runs product management and build out the rest of the organization. Since the team came together, we have completely refreshed our product and services portfolio, pricing, website, brand and how we go to market, while keeping our DNA intact. It has been a fun transformation and one that I hope will have positive impact
TR: What is Aryaka’s approach to SD-WAN and how did it come to be?
DG: We’re a little bit unique in that we develop our own technology and offer it as a self-contained managed service. It’s a different business model than the box or DIY vendors, and also different from traditional telcos or your MSPs that source the technology from a box vendor, stitch it together, and offer it as a managed service. We got our start 10 years ago offering it as a global WAN optimization as-a-service, because no one had invented the term, SD-WAN back then. Over the past five years, what we offered for global orchestration, traffic optimization, security, multi-cloud connectivity, and visibility through our MyAryaka Cloud Portal fit perfectly with the definition of an integrated managed SD-WAN offering, so we went with the flow. That changed last fall when we introduced the term “Cloud-First WAN”. The reason is that there are some people that take a rather limited view of what SD-WAN is in the marketplace. Is it just connectivity? Is it connectivity and a little bit of cloud? And we also wanted to rise above the noise. Ultimately, it’s a global-managed next-generation WAN service that integrates these various functionalities. The enterprises consume it via a network consumption model, but we take away all complexity from them. It’s totally an OPEX model versus a CAPEX model, and its flexibility has shown itself in the current pandemic environment.
SK: If you look at how we compare with the rest of the market, on one hand we have the box players that really go to market directly or through a carrier, and on the other you have a carrier or a telco which is taking this box and delivering it as a managed service. We have this integrated value proposition that includes our own technology for SD-WAN but have also built out a global PoP network which is a unique set of PoPs (Layer 2, fully meshed) that are highly architected for application performance. It’s a multi-cloud architecture, and we deliver everything as managed services. For us, it’s the experience that counts, and our customers really like us for that. In general, we kind of align with transformation initiatives where enterprises don’t want to expend a lot of time and resources doing it themselves. As enterprises embrace the notion of the cloud, having the WAN being delivered as a similar experience is really good.
TR: Do you market directly to enterprises or do you work with partners and the channel?
SK: We have a hybrid go-to-market approach. We have a direct sales force, but we like to think of ourselves as a channel-led company. There are quite a few deals that come in through the channel in ways that are aligned with transformation initiatives. The kind of customers that they bring to us are the ones more amenable to subscription or consumption orders and where speed is of the essence. Because of our backbone, we also usually take on the most complex sites in the world. Most others are really architected to deliver with their underlying quality of internet that is good in certain regions, but they don’t take ownership of sites that are distributed globally when there is need for stringent application performance. We still do that as our flagship offering. But we’ve also repackaged/re-productized certain elements of our offering to allow us to go to regional and hybrid deployments. During these times, customers are looking for solutions that are more flexible, so they have choices and can adapt during times of uncertainty.
TR: How has the COVID-19 epidemic changed the marketplace for you? How have things shifted in the last three months?
DG: The high-order bit is that for our enterprise customers, given the criticality of their managed WAN services, there is almost zero-churn. Even in some verticals that you might see negatively impacted, there’s still a certain level of WAN infrastructure that they require to keep their processes going. Some customers have kept up their bandwidth utilization. There were others that for various reasons had to close down some of their branches and we saw some traffic drop off. But we saw a very strong uptake in our secure remote access solution, where people come in through a VPN into a concentrator that’s connected into our backbone. Net-net, we saw overall sustained growth on our backbone of 25-30% due to changes in traffic profiles, different work environments, and the additional demands placed by things like unified communications on the backbone. It has operated exceptionally well in terms of the flexibility, in terms of supporting lights-out operations, in and terms of being able to transition people from an in-house environment to a remote worker environment. Going forward, it’s actually a good time for planning our next set of investment activities. For example, where is that intersection of security and secure remote access, and where do we invest accordingly as part of our service offerings?
SK: We haven’t lost any customers and in fact many have come to further appreciate the way we’ve helped them manage the transition. In some ways, our model was geared toward managing change.Our customers didn’t have CapEx investments in us, it’s all OpEx driven. We did have some segments in retail that had to shut their stores down temporarily, but all of them are bounding back But I would say that 95% of our customers have been able to keep things operational and many are essential services who had to step up their operations in the COVID era Even as their own employees have had to work remotely, their networks were up. We were able to help them with remote access solutions, with bandwidth changes on the fly, and with coordination with the cloud and SaaS applications. I think it helped them and it will probably accelerate as we come out of this situation and lockdown. They’re going to be more proactively thinking about how to be prepared for what’s next. We see acceleration of investments into cloud. Certain sites may end up consolidating or looking at maybe bandwidth flexibility regardless of whether a person is coming into work or working from home. Also, some are looking to consolidate certain footprints in offices and potentially not have to coordinate between multiple vendors. Such things will drive newer conversations about how easy is to not just deploy but also to maintain and manage things with a model such as ours
TR: So you think the experiences we’ve had over the last three months have helped crystallize the key features and capabilities of this kind of product in the minds of customers?
SK: Yes, I think it’s been a good forcing function for everybody. Remote access or teleworking are not sexy topics, they are 1990s topics. But nobody was provisioning 100% of their workforce to be remote in such a short period of time. Suddenly corner cases now suddenly became mainstream, and if the network and infrastructure wasn’t able to support it then obviously their business suffered further. I think we’ll all have some key learnings from this and what kind of changes need to be undertaken on a more permanent basis. I think there are a lot of bandaids that have been applied for now to get through the situation. Once we come out, does it require minor surgery or open-heart surgery for the WAN Some are using this as a trigger to move away from MPLS networks to modern architectures such as ours that are more cloud-friendly.
TR: Overall as an industry, how do you think we’ve handled all this?
SK: I think the tech industry has been remarkably resilient and has managed to adapt fairly quickly. There have been certain kinks. Even if we look at our own organization, we were able to shift our entire operations on the fly in a matter of 48 hours or less, with zero down time and zero impact to our customers On our blog we have tried to share some of the learnings from within the organization. We also shared trends that we’re seeing across the network because as a managed provider with sites around the globe, we had line of sight into some of these patterns ahead of when they actually became product trends, and to make correlations and predictions.
DG: Yeah, I think another interesting point is that there has been a lot less commentary on the underlying network infrastructure versus a number of the applications that are in use. A lot of the focus has been on the application developers either fixing security holes or hardening their SaaS applications. The thing that we’re seeing right now, as people are sticking their heads up and considering the new environment, is a lot of discussion on hardening teleworkers’ home broadband connection. We all have very asymmetrical connections out there, maybe 250Mbps or 1G down, and maybe 5Mbps or 10Mbps up. But now we are seeing various providers out there bring more front and center some of their more symmetric commercial-ish offerings. I think you’ll see more of a focus from the enterprise space and understanding which employees need this enhanced connectivity. There’s also going to be emphasis what we sometimes call the SD-WAN branch of one, where you want that whole in-office experience down to the SSID translated into your home work environment.
TR: Might managed service providers see sustained a tailwind from this new environment?
DG: In an environment where there’s rampant change, you still have skills gaps. There’s a lot of appeal to a managed service offering that gives you that end-to-end experience. You don’t have to wonder what to do for security, or for multi-cloud, or for application optimization. It’s all there in one integrated, coordinated package. There’s also an advantage in being able to go to a vendor who’s acting as the MSP so there is a single hand to shake, or throat to choke.
TR: Into what new products or features are you investing your resources today?
DG: There are three major legs of investment right now. First is security, of course. Second is to reinforce our secure remote access solution. Our customers are asking for a more integrated offering that spans the two domains. And third is visibility and interoperability. We have hybrid WAN customers that use our backbone but also use a broadband internet connection. We have some MPLS capabilities right now, and we’re reinforcing that for better coexistence. And in the same way, we want to provide our customers with additional application identification and profiling capabilities.
SK: One of the challenges that most telcos face is they have long had a cash cow with their MPLS business. Now over the last few years, they also have another foot with SD-WAN. These are sometimes two different business units of the same telco, each focused on their own respective P&L milestones. It’s hard for them to internally compete. Our private backbone is really like MPLS. Enterprise customers want the predictability you get from the traffic engineering aspects of MPLS, but they want the speed, agility and flexibility that you get with internet and SD-WAN. We actually bring those two pieces together, and we take it a bit further by bringing in support for MPLS as well. That allows telcos to actually work with us as an on-ramp for certain global scenarios. They can preserve some of their MPLS customers, bring them on to Aryaka, and use us as an on-ramp for global and not wait until the contracts expire, for example. Certain capabilities like that are underway which we will be making generally available in the near future.
TR: Is their room in the game plan for M&A to bring new capabilities in-house?
SK: We evaluate that from time to time, and I don’t think we’re closing our minds on anything. We’ll be opportunistic and see what comes our way. We have a build/buy/partner strategy. Obviously, we’ve built quite a few things, and we have partnered with quite a few things, and if there’s an opportunity to buy, we will do that also.
TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!
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