Cloud Networking Startup WiteSand Set To Shake Enterprise Networking Out Of ‘The Old Days’

Entrepreneur Praveen Jain, who has founded and worked for three different tech startups, is back with his new company, WiteSand. The startup is consolidating siloed, premise-based networking tools into a unified cloud service for enterprises and channel partners.

On A Mission

Networking newcomer WiteSand wants to help enterprises deeply simply IT operations by consolidating previously siloed, premise-based networking tools into one cloud-delivered service.

The upstart is being led by Founder and CEO Praveen Jain (pictured), who happens to be no stranger to shaking things up in the networking arena. Having spent several years working for Cisco Systems, Jain went on to work for several startups, including Andiamo and Nuova Systems, which were acquired by Cisco. Then, he founded Insieme Networks, which was also later acquired by the networking behemoth. Later, Jain was one of the founding members of Pensando Systems, the edge computing startup now led by former Cisco CEO John Chambers.

WiteSand this month emerged from stealth mode with $12.5 million in funding and plans to bring its solution to the masses with the help of the channel. The company’s cloud-native, multi-tenant solution offers asset discovery, network access control, wired and wireless provisioning, monitoring, and flow analytics in one place. Only the physical switches and access points remain on-premise, according to San Jose, Calif.-based WiteSand.

Jain and Sean Stanton, WiteSand’s vice president of sales for the startup, sat down with CRN to talk about the mission of the cloud networking company and why they believe the time is now to fix enterprise networking so businesses are ready for the future of work. The leaders have every intention of making the company a channel-first organization, and they shared their plans for partner development and the opportunities that WiteSand’s solution will open up for MSPs in terms of incremental growth and recurring revenue.

Here’s what Jain and Stanton had to say.

Why was now the time to create WiteSand?

Jain: Excellent question! So, I worked in enterprise networking at Cisco, in 1996, [where] we created the first networking platform in Cisco, which used to be called catalyst 6000 and grew to $5 billion in revenue — the fastest-growing product in that timeframe. From there, we created Andiamo, Insieme and Nuova — three startups with a data center focus. We have learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t work. Then I realized that unfortunately, the enterprise is stuck still in the old days. We can take some of the learnings from what we did with simplifying the data center side and apply it here. If you look at Amazon and all these cloud providers, they are managing, in some sense, their own data centers with automation and everything. So, using that principle, we applied that to our startups in the data center space. Now we’re coming back and doing the same thing for enterprise networking. For me, the question was, what will cloud look like for the campus?

Now for employers, [and trends like] hybrid workforce, if you look at all the reports across the board, they’re saying, “We want the remote management. We want the simplicity of opex rather than a capex model.” Timing wise, this is all working out in our favor.

Tell us about your cloud-based networking solution and how it fits into enterprise IT environments

Jain: In all enterprise locations, you need a wired networking switch and wireless access points to connect to the network. But in addition, in each of these locations, you need to have so many networking tools installed. To give you an example, you need to have a NAC, like Cisco ISE or Aruba ClearPass, and these tools are all on-prem that have to be installed on your campuses. Then, monitoring tools, like Solar Winds, and then you need network flow analytics. Also, when you are configuring these networks, either you are using manual CLI commands, or you use Ansible scripts, or you use some kind of a management tool. So, there are many tools which are sitting on each of these campuses and branches and factories. We took all those tools and put them into the cloud as an integrated solution. In other words, from our perspective, obviously, you need to have the switch and the Wi-Fi APs — we can’t take away these wires — but for every other software piece, we took it out and put it in the cloud as an integrated solution. So, from our customers perspective, they just connect from cloud to these locations. Now they can manage [their networks] worldwide, from anywhere.

Stanton: We are absolutely eliminating the need for those monitoring tools, the flow analytic tools, the NAC tools — we are eliminating that. So, we look at that as a cost save and an operational save for those customers. But when you look at what we do when you’re operationalizing, and you’re provisioning inside of our cloud, on the other side of that, when we go down into your environment, we’re provisioning all those different vendors you have the network, if you do have a multi-vendor environment, our job is to eliminate all that noise for the IT operator. They can orchestrate their network in our cloud, and then our cloud takes care of all the equipment downstream. We are not lifting or shifting any hardware, switches or access points — they remain as is.

Who is your competition?

Stanton: I used to get this question a lot [because] I ran the enterprise business at Juniper for Silicon Valley/Northern California. Customers will ask, “Who’s your competition?” When you have a full suite, you have point product competitors. If you think about switch provisioning, competitors would be the OEM manufacturers, or our competitors would be manual scripting, like Ansible. In that model, you’re doing it based on each specific logo that’s in the network. So that will be on the switching side and that same description will hold true on the Wi-Fi side. If you look at NAC, we would be head to head competitors with the Cisco ISE platform, or the Aruba ClearPass platform or with Forescout, again, because that’s a pure play NAC solution. And we have that in our portfolio. As far as the monitoring tools, think about Stealthwatch from Cisco, or Solar Winds, you know, you think about a lot of those other third-party applications.

But we are never in competition with hardware vendors. If you look at all that we do, you could find companies that are at a point level that compete with that one unique aspect of what we do, but nobody has come together, like we have, to give a customer that closed loop, entire 360 visibility of their environment, regardless of vendors that are on the network. That’s really, really key. Having that multi-vendor view. And multi-vendor support is really, really important.

What is WiteSand’s channel strategy?

Stanton: I actually started in the reseller market in my first job, so I’m super familiar with that strategy as being what we need to scale the business. We can’t scale the business without a channel footprint. Think about this for a second: Everybody has already embraced [tools like] Office 365, G Suite, and Zoom and Slack. They’re outsourcing to SaaS whatever they can. SaaS is prevalent in every conversation [partners] have with their customers and it’s the number one topic that comes up. What else on our campus can we SaaS-ify? WiteSand has stepped forward with this disruptive model that says you can SaaS-ify provisioning, monitoring, and flow analytics, and NAC and a lot of this complexity for your end users, and really drive in something new and disruptive, that they’re not going to see in the marketplace. So, this now gives the channel something new that they have the opportunity to talk customers about. It’s not the same playbook from five years ago. This is totally different.

I wasn’t prepared [for us] to have so much interest from the MSP space so early because if you think about the channel, I’m used to proving the market, and having viable customers and having that growth happen, and then having the channel partners be able to develop business. Then at that point, the MSPs will come knocking on the door and say, “Hey, we want to take a look.” But interestingly enough, we have some massive global MSPs that have stepped forward early and said, “We need to talk.” And a lot of the VARs we’re talking to have their own managed service strategy and professional services strategy, so they love the idea that WiteSand can help them with that.

We’re bringing something very disruptive. And it hasn’t been done before — this idea of massive consolidation. Our goals would be for rapid growth and rapid channel adoption. I think that there’s a play for all different vertical markets.

Home important is the upgrade path opportunities that the WiteSand solution can offer to channel partners?

Stanton: [Customers] are trying desperately to keep their infrastructure on pace with technology advancements. Unfortunately, as a customer, you’re typically depreciating those assets over a three-year, four-year, or five-year cycle. So, it’s really difficult for you to then move a new platform into your environment because you can’t do those upgrades. It’s a forklift, and customers are faced with those forklift conversations every three or four years and it’s a nightmare for them. Now think about the channel, which has an opportunity to bring in a WiteSand solution and say to that customer: “I’m going to give you a three-year plan to get to a cloud state.” This is really, really important because think about how many companies that are out there today that have legacy infrastructure. They’ve got older switches, they have older access points, and they still work. Those customers don’t have a problem. But they don’t have that beautiful end user experience about what the authentication is like, what that user connection speeds are like, or anything that’s going on — they don’t have the cloud analytics. So, that customer with that Brownfield environment — a reseller partner can now go into that network, bring the WiteSand in and give that customer an immediate cloud experience. Now, because of that I can work with you, customer, over a three-year plan or whatever is appropriate for you, and we can systematically start working through that upgrade cycle. I’m not going to punch in the nose and say you need a $5 million dollar forklift right now. This is a beautiful platform that allows that migration to happen seamlessly for customers.

Jain: It’s not just the modularity of what functionality you want, but also how many locations you want to turn on. And the good news is, once [customers] are satisfied with that, as the renewal comes closer, they can just completely light up all the worldwide locations with us. They can incrementally grow. We have thought quite a bit about being able to serve the Brownfields without asking for a lift or shift or replacing things.