Former Cisco Execs' Startup Avi Networks Aims To Disrupt App-Delivery Market With 'Game-Changer' Tech

Touting itself as the "next generation" Application Delivery Controller company, software startup Avi Networks is aiming to take market share away from competitors F5 Networks and Citrix in 2016 -- and to execute a major channel expansion.

"Companies aren't making new investments into the traditional box vendors like F5 and Citrix, who are holding onto their market shares or slightly declining, but in the growth markets like SDN, NFV, cloud and containers -- these are the environments Avi works in," said Amit Pandey, the new CEO of Avi Networks, in an interview with CRN.

"We contrast ourselves very starkly from the vendors like F5 and Citrix by saying, 'We're agnostic to the environment' and 'Why can't we create within the enterprise an agile, nimble experience that rivals that of a public cloud service?' " said Pandey.

[Related: 8 Areas Where Cisco Partners Are Placing Their Bets In 2016]

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The Santa Clara, Calif.-based software startup launched out of stealth mode in December 2014 by raising $33 million from venture capitalists.

The company was founded by former top Cisco executives, including Umesh Mahajan, previously vice president and general manager of Cisco's Data Center Switching business; Ranga Rajagopalan, former senior director of engineering at Cisco; and Murali Basavaiah, Cisco's former vice president of software engineering for the Data Center Group. Pandey became CEO in September after serving in various executive positions at NetApp.

Avi owns a cloud-based application delivery solution with integrated analytics and security for on-premise and cloud-based applications. Pandey said the solution combines enterprise-grade ADC features with the ease and flexibility of OpenStack elastic load balancing for enterprises and cloud service providers.

"We love embracing disrupting technologies like Avi," said Michael Krieger, managing director at Pride Technologies, a Cincinnati-based solution provider and Avi partner. "Avi is a frontier in this load-balancing space. … Their story is being very, very well embraced. We think it’s a game-changer. They're disrupting what the traditional technology hasn't been able to do."

At the center of Avi's ADC solution is an analytics-driven distributed services architecture, Hydra, based on software-defined networking principles, that separates the data plane from the control plane.

"That analytics [aspect] kicks us up the value chain and gets us into more architectural-type discussions with customers rather than point solutions," said Mark Campbell, director of innovation research at Trace3, an Irvine, Calif.-based Avi partner, ranked No. 68 on the CRN 2015 Solution Provider 500 list.

"Apart from just virtualizing the load balancer and making that easy, the analytics and monitoring plug-ins they've got just opens up a lot of other things for us to help us sell over on the app dynamics side or Splunk side," said Campbell. "They resonate with our customer base."

Partners say they're seeing Avi interest from the midmarket and small enterprise businesses.

"Where the real cost saving [is] is in the larger enterprises," said Krieger. "They're going to be slower to move to embrace it right now, because they've done A10 [Networks] or F5 for a long period of time, but it's grabbing their attention and we love it."

Pandey said the startup gives customers a networking experience very similar to a public cloud. "We can give you the load-balancing services, the application analytics and the auto scale that you would expect if you were running on AWS," he said.

He said Avi is working with vendors like Cisco and VMware around SDN because it's where the market is heading.

"We have the best solution on the market for Cisco [Application Policy Infrastructure Controller], for OpenStack -- there's no better container solution than Avi if you're using things like Docker. These are the areas where investment is happening and growth is happening, and that is good for [channel] partners," said Pandey.

In 2016, Avi is homing in on increasing its channel presence with plans to onboard dozens of solution providers, both in the U.S. and abroad. Pandey says more than 80 percent of its business runs through the channel and that the company's goal is to increase that number to nearly 100 percent.

"We're building up our channels and we're getting very aggressive about it," said Pandey. "We're going after newer channels -- looking at more agile, smaller channel partners who understand cloud, container technologies, SDN, who understand this self-service concept that is really taking over the enterprise."

In order to help jump-start expansion globally, Avi recently hired former Nutanix executive Dirk Marichal as its new vice president of EMEA and India. Marichal was previously vice president of EMEA for hyper-converged specialist Nutanix.

"Nutanix is a very channel-friendly company, and Dirk is very focused on building out the two-tier distribution model in Europe. He's bringing on some of the Nutanix partners and also looking at other, newer partners," said Pandey.

Avi has created an all-star leadership lineup, including marketing leader Chandra Sekar -- who's previously held top executive positions at Citrix and Illumio -- as well as head of sales Rob Duncan, who spent nearly a decade in sales leadership roles at F5.

"They have some good folks over there from Cisco and other places and we're a big fan of what they're doing," said Campbell. "If I were a competing company, I would definitely be keeping an eye on Avi and what they were doing."