Former VCE CEO Ready To 'Disrupt' Networking Industry By Leading SD-WAN Startup Viptela

Praveen Akkiraju, who was instrumental in growing VCE into a $2.1 billion business, is now placing his bet on the fast-growing software-defined WAN market by taking the helm at startup Viptela, which has embraced a full channel sales model.

"I saw in Viptela an opportunity to lead that second wave of disruption in in the software-defined networking space," Akkiraju said in an interview with CRN. "In the next five years, the truly top problem to solve is to help customers migrate to the cloud – applications, users, connectivity -- and I see Viptela and this particular wave of technology playing a very critical role in that. … 2017 is the year of software-defined WAN."

Akkiraju helped build converged infrastructure behemoth VCE as its CEO for three years before he left in 2016. Prior to VCE, he was a top Cisco executive for nearly two decades, holding titles such as senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's enterprise networking and cloud infrastructure.

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Partners said Akkiraju's decision to take over the San Jose, Calif.-based startup bodes well for the channel.

"Bringing in someone with these sorts of credentials that has done it before and successfully -- plus with the Cisco background and understanding how to leverage the channel -- is just fantastic news for us," said Steve Inman, president of Teneo, a Richmond, Va.-based solution provider and Viptela partner. "Praveen is a person that would have lots of different opportunities to do lots of different things, and the fact that he chooses this space as his next adventure is very compelling to me."

Research firm IDC estimates that worldwide SD-WAN revenue will exceed $6 billion in 2020 with a compound annual growth rate of more than 90 percent over the next three years.

"We're a startup in the valley here," Akkiraju said, "so this is a time for you to be breaking glass, disrupting – and there's no better place to do it than in a company like Viptela, where they have great technology, tremendous market traction, and SD-WAN is an excellent opportunity."

Viptela emerged from stealth in 2014, led by founder and CEO Amir Khan, a former executive at Juniper Networks and Cisco. Khan will continue to play an active role inside the company as president and board member.

Viptela provides SD-WAN technology that virtualizes WAN infrastructure. The platform allows enterprises to build carrier-agnostic, policy-controlled and cost-effective WANs. The startup's offerings have been deployed at thousands of sites by more than 25 Fortune 500 enterprises, while carriers including Verizon and Singtel are using Viptela to deliver managed SD-WAN services. More than 15,000 of its vEdge SD-WAN routers are in production across the globe.

In October, the startup launched its first partner program: the vForce Global Partner Program. Highlights of the program include assured margins, a rapid on-boarding process and ’partner success’ funding.

On the channel front, Akkiraju said he will take the expertise he gained from Cisco and VCE to Viptela.

"I strongly believe in a partner-led model. Particularly as a startup, for us, the partner community is like oxygen," said Akkiraju. "We need their guidance. We need their feedback so we can actually go build out and go out and chase this massive opportunity we have."

Teneo's Inman said his company is "bullish" about its Viptela business this year and believes the hiring of Akkiraju proves that the market is set to reshape the networking landscape.

"It reinforces what we believe, and what Praveen believes about SD-WAN, which is that it's the next big transformational technology that really every customer we talk to is interested in talking about," said Inman. "Then, of course, Viptela, with what they've done with their technology architecture, is extremely exciting as well. … We're very bullish about Viptela in 2017."