SDN Startup Embrane Signs First Partner: World Wide Technology

Software-defined networking startup Embrane is moving full speed ahead with its vision for programmable, application-centric networks, this week unveiling an updated version of its flagship Heleos platform. The company also revealed a new partnership with global systems integrator World Wide Technology (WWT).

According to Embrane, WWT represents the first of what it hopes to be a broad ecosystem of channel partners, as it looks to drive enterprise adoption of its Heleos network services platform.

"We see ourselves leveraging the channel to a greater extent over time. We are a relatively young company, so it's very important for us to maintain focus and to make the relationships we create as successful as possible," Dante Malagrino, Embrane's president and CEO, told CRN. "But, clearly, having a distribution channel is critical for us, and we consider that an important piece of our strategy moving forward."

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Embrane, founded in 2009, is one of the many startups to sprout up over the past few years focused on the burgeoning SDN trend. But, unlike many of its rivals, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Embrane is looking to push the SDN discussion beyond Layer 2 and Layer 3 networking functions. Embrane achieves this through Heleos, its distributed software platform that moves the programmable networking attributes most SDN companies promote into Layer 4-7 networking, offering such functions as load balancing and VPN.

Malagrino, who had a six-year run at Cisco before launching Embrane, said the company is taking a "lighthouse approach" to partner recruitment for now, looking to on-board a select, but committed, group of partners for Heleos.

"We need to work with partners that are investing in this relationship, which is exactly what WWT is doing," Malagrino said.

Bob Olwig, vice president of business strategy and marketing at St. Louis-based WWT, said Embrane immediately stood out as a unique startup in the increasingly crowded SDN space.

"[Embrane] seemed to have a different approach and focus that was around network services at layers 4-7 versus the lower layers, which seemed like it was becoming a crowded market with people kind of fighting over that [space]," Olwig told CRN. He added that the Cisco heritage touted by Embrane executives such as Malagrino also piqued WWT's interest.

Dave Chandler, practice lead for routing and switching at WWT, stressed the interoperability between Embrane's Heleos platform and other vendors' solutions as a big differentiator for the startup.

"They also work well with multiple vendors. Most of the time when you are talking about companies that you might consider a competitor doing the same thing, you have to use that particular vendor's entire suite of products," Chandler said. "But with Embrane ... you can use Cisco, you can use VMware, you can use KVM. I don't care who is doing the Layer 2 or Layer 3 switching -- this can run on top of it."

Malagrino said the idea behind Heleos, and Embrane's approach to SDN as a whole, is to deliver application-centric networking, or programmable, agile infrastructures that prioritize the performance of business-critical applications.

"Other SDN players have been a lot more focused on solving some of the connectivity issues -- the switching, or what we call the Layer 2 connectivity issues -- but we took a very complementary approach because we thought it was important to start as close as possible to the application layer," Malagrino said. "The closer you are to the application, the more immediate the value you can deliver your customers."

NEXT: Embrane Introduces Heleos 2.2

Embrane describes Heleos, which launched in December 2011, as a "multiservice, distributed software platform" for powering SDN services, including server load balancers, firewalls, VPN termination and SSL offload. The platform, according to Embrane, is designed for both service providers and enterprise organizations looking to build out private, hybrid or public cloud environments within their data centers.

New in the release of Heleos 2.2 is a technology Embrane called vTopologies, or Layer 3 overlay networks, that allow users to completely mask internal IP addressing from the underlay network. When coupled with Embrane's Elastic Services Manager (ESM), vTopologies allows each application to have its own, dedicated network "container," or its own set of virtual network appliances, including load balancers, firewalls and VPNs.

As a result, Malagrino said, every application has its own set of virtual network resources, rather than having to share them with other applications. This, in turn, optimizes that application's performance.

"You tie the network to the application in a much more significant way, and keep that network specific to the application," Malagrino said. "Each app has its own source of firewalls, for example, and its own set of local policies."

Also new in Heleos 2.2 are vLinks, which essentially tie these isolated application environments together so they can be centrally managed, along with support for IPv6 and interoperability with VMware vCenter.

Heleos runs on standard x86 servers and leverages off-the-shelf virtualization technology from any hypervisor vendor, according to Embrane.

Malagrino said the interest in Heleos has taken off, without disclosing specific sales figures. "I can tell you that we are already in the double-digit customer zone and have been for a while," he told CRN. "We have gotten very significant traction in the market."

Embrane customers today include Ryan Labs Asset Management, SunGard and Peer 1 Hosting.