Apstra Eyes Growth As Vendor-Agnostic Intent-Based Networking System Gains Traction


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With a significant new customer, and the hire of a networking security veteran as vice president of engineering, Apstra Inc. is positioning itself for growth in the burgeoning market for intent-based networking.

Menlo Park, Calif.-based Apstra says its AOS platform does something that no other intent-based networking system can do: it automates data center operations across the network regardless of customers' vendor mix.

Greg Harrison, senior vice president of sales for the service provider division at OnX, a solution provider in Toronto, has been working with Apstra for about nine months and said the AOS platform is an important tool for customers eager to move on from legacy data centers to modern, efficient systems.

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"A lot of customers are trying to transform from legacy to the future, and Apstra stood out for what they were doing," Harrison said. "We quickly gravitated toward that."

Apstra's approach to intent-based networking has even begun to provide OnX with a clear engagement strategy for customers looking to modernize network operations. "We're building demand and momentum, and getting customers to shift around networking isn't the easiest, but they're coming around," Harrison said. "Most of our customers are looking for that single pane of glass, automation, orchestration. They're struggling with SDN, NFV: 'Wwhat do they mean?'"

Harrison said customers are increasingly willing to move away from proprietary, legacy hardware, but are struggling to get vendors to separate hardware from software. "Customers want to split off software and run it on commodity infrastructure, and Apstra allows that," Harrison said. "If it's a white-box solution, that's fine. I see it a lot in financials [and in] health care. My customers have been on this journey for the last two years, and they want to decide what technology to use rather than being stuck in proprietary [systems]."

OnX has about a dozen opportunities with Apstra currently. "Our goal is to go wide," Harrison said.

Apstra's approach won over Yahoo Japan, which has deployed the Apstra AOS platform in what the company calls the first multi-vendor deployment of intent-based networking ever.

Venture-backed Apstra last month made a key addition to its management team when it hired Manish Sampat, a Palo Alto Networks veteran, as vice president of engineering.

"As we go forward, and as this thing takes off and we get deployed in a variety of data centers, the costs savings for network operators would be the obvious benefit," Sampat said. "That's what's going to drive the market. The simplicity of it, and having complete control over how the network is set up, that's going to be the driver to cost savings."

Apstra AOS currently works with several vendors' gear, including Cisco, HPE Aruba, Arista, Dell EMC and others.

Cisco has its own intent-based networking system, but Dave Butler, Apstra's global sales and business development vice president, said there's a clear line – at least for now – between Cisco's intent-based networking strategy and Apstra's.

"It's how do I treat the fabric as a single system," Butler said. "Cisco uses ACI to do that, but it only works with Cisco switches and only when they're running in ACI mode. The second thing is continuous validation and intent-based monitoring, and Cisco has a bunch of new products and of course, they only work with Cisco stuff. They're great products. The third is deep analytics, checking for things beyond just whether this CPU is overloaded compared to that one. It's really thoughtful things that engineers design and change on the fly. [Cisco] has an important product called Tetration that does this stuff or some of it, but we've made it generic and more programmable."

"Networks have lots of problems," Butler said. "They're incredibly complex. We've built a simple solution that allows you to build a data center network and run it. Initially, this was a way for us to allow multi-vendor devices and solutions to be deployed together in a meaningful way so people could extract the best value from each of the vendors. Over time, some other areas became paramount to what we were doing. One is fabric management. You'll see fabric management solutions from a number of vendors, but only for their products. We added continuous validation and monitoring to all products using telemetry that hadn't been anticipated by the vendors."

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