Talari CEO Sweeney On New Cloud Connect Platform And Winning The SD-WAN Shootout

Patrick Sweeney counts Talari among the top vendors in the SD-WAN space along with VMware's VeloCloud unit and Silver Peak.


A Different Kind Of Network

CEO Patrick Sweeney says Talari's new Cloud Connect platform draws a bold line between the SD-WAN vendor and competitors whose solutions are just "good enough."

The red-hot market for software-defined networking technology has begun to separate the players from the wannabes as customers become more familiar with SD-WAN's capabilities and cost-saving potential, Sweeney said. Sweeney counts Talari among the top vendors in the SD-WAN space along with VMware's VeloCloud unit and Silver Peak, while others, including Cisco's Viptela, can't stand up to the rigors of an app-centric enterprise use, he said.

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Talari's Cloud Connect platform is designed to maximize network reliability and consistency while avoiding carrier lock-in for customers using an array of Software-as-a-Service platforms, as well as several public and private clouds. Sweeney argues Cloud Connect delivers reliability equal to MPLS at a fraction of the cost.

"There's no way companies are ever going to spend more than they're spending today on MPLS. That is going to force the adaptation and adoption of a different kind of network," Sweeney said. "It forces the adoption of SD-WAN so they can retain the quality while getting 10 times the bandwidth while actually reducing cost."

Talari has been on a roll in the past year, posting 12 consecutive months of year-over-year growth, including 10 percent sales growth in the second quarter, according to research firm IHS Markit. Sweeney expects that growth to continue, and says the strength of Talari's solution puts it on competitive footing with much larger competitors.

What follows is an edited excerpt from CRN's conversation with Sweeney.

What competitors do you duke it out with in the market most frequently?

The market is starting to consolidate a little bit, which is good. Everybody that had a failover, load-balancer was out there saying we're SD-WAN too. That's not really where the world is today. There's more sophistication, and there are two things driving that: one is a higher degree of awareness that designing your network to fail and then fail over and come back is not an SD-WAN solution. The whole thing about an SD-WAN solution is that it should not fail. It should not drop a call. It should not introduce static. What's more common than an entire MPLS or broadband circuit going down is that you have latency, jitter, congestion, other things impacting it. You don't have blackouts. You have brownouts. VeloCloud is a really solid solution and Talari is the highest technically capable solution, and then you do see companies like Silver Peak in all these accounts. Those three are most predominant in most shootouts. That's if [the customer] is concerned about a high degree of reliability, or they've got some dependency on real-time applications. If good is good enough, then you see a lot of the other companies still making inroads. If you think good is good enough, then you may go with Viptela. If you're not concerned with a high degree of roll-forward roll-back capabilities and administrative capabilities, you might go with some of the other players.

Do you see yourself gaining ground on Silver Peak?

I see us battling it out with Silver Peak. We see them in a lot of places. I do see us gaining ground with the growth we've had in the last 12 months. It's going to come down to those players over and over. Everyone's going to claim their win rates are better. Customers will tell you honestly what they value Talari on, and one of those things is our overall ability to do the workflow for provisioning, the roll-forward and roll-back deployments. We have a better capability around maintaining real-time application connectivity. There are actually only three products in the SD-WAN space that got passed as a recommended solution in the NSS Labs public shootout, and that was VeloCloud, Talari, and of all companies, Fortinet, which was a bit of a surprise. NSS Labs will increase the complexity of the tests and the realness of the tests, and when you do that, you'll find there are very few companies that can actually do it.

How do Talari partners make money with Cloud Connect? What's the big opportunity for them?

Most distributed enterprises have a cloud presence, and a lot of them have moved their physical VoIP solutions or whatever they were using to the cloud and they have more and more dependencies on the cloud. It's about allowing the VAR to simplistically say, ‘I have an answer for you on how you're going to go two steps forward and zero steps backward. I'm going to give you not just complete reliability among your distributed enterprise, but I'm going to give you enhanced reliability for those cloud services.’ If you want to access Office365 and NetSuite and all those things automatically, we'll provision through Mode or the other partners we have. If you want to get all the reliability to things like RingCentral, then that's an easy configuration where you give up nothing and you get tremendous benefits and it doesn't cost you a penny more.

Talari has put up some impressive growth numbers over the last year. What are your expectations for what Cloud Connect can contribute to that growth?

We've had almost 12 consecutive months of quarter-on-quarter excellent growth. We're much bigger this year than we were last year. We were reasonably happy about our capabilities, about having a nice VM and being on the AWS and Azure marketplace and allowing people to put critical applications up in the cloud and having Talari VMs front-end that. The customers were having to provide that administrative overhead. This takes that away and will really accelerate Talari to be more relevant in the big picture of the cloud in SD-WAN. When you think of cloud, you might think of VeloCloud. What we want people to think about is you can have the highest reliability, the best fail-safe SD-WAN solution out there, and the simplest to deploy with the best access to cloud services. We want that to be the hallmark of Talari.

What do you need from your channel partners that you're not getting today to keep you on the growth trajectory you're on?

Our VARs being more and more capable of going in and helping the customer recognize the difference between networks that are fail-safe, which is what you want, versus other vendors that will tell you that good is good enough. If good was good enough, we would all just rely on failover. Let something fail, and hope that maybe that caller that was on the other line will call back. That video will re-establish. That mouse click, well, we're not going to worry about that because the VDI experience is just a poor, latency-ridden environment. If you do that, you're going to stall the SD-WAN market. There are those that don't have the technical capabilities or real strength in their product line. We want VARs to know the difference.

What does knowing the difference do for VARs?

There are some environments where failover is just fine. Let it fail. Fine. You don't have any mission-critical apps, you don't have VoIP, you don't have any video, you don't have VDI, you don't have database transactions, you don't have POS. In those environments, maybe you go with the cheapest solution possible. In the ones that are challenging and rigorous, VARs need to communicate the whole point of why you're moving away from MPLS in the first place. MPLS gave you predictability and reliability. You're going to get that, but without the cost. What we want from our VARs is to make the statement: Predictability, reliability of all your communications, whether it's between different locations or the cloud, has a higher and higher bar associated with it.

Is that a whole new value proposition for VARs to present to customers?

You can drive down cost for your customer while increasing reliability and predictability by going with the right solution. Narrow it down to a field of vendors that have the really good technology and the customer will be happy and not forced into a situation where they do a deployment and then have to unwind it and do a new deployment. We've seen different SD-WAN deployments where someone thought good was good enough and they found out good enough was not good enough and they went with a real SD-WAN solution, and that's what the market is really all about. High reliability, predictability of application performance across the entire network and the cloud.

Where do you see the SD-WAN market going over the next year or two?

I think there's a very linear growth path for SD-WAN where I see the market probably moving more away from proof-of-concept-type deployments where they're just testing it out and having more confidence in their VARs to make a selection for them. People are budgeting SD-WAN into their next year's budget. Last year, the cycle time to do a transaction for a VAR was very long and very arduous. They had to be very technical. They had to help with the POC [proof of concept]. They had to get in there and do the proof. What I see for next year is that VARs have a confidence in their products. They know what will work in different customers' environments. I see a much more narrow cycle time for VARs. I see some number of POCs and trials still being important, but less. There are more environments where they've been there and done that. It'll wind up being a little more like the security industry 10 years ago. Once the VARs had experience with it, the cycle times for deploying security became ‘You are my trusted adviser, tell me what you think is the right thing to deploy.’ In the next 12 to 24 months, there's a greater reliability on the confidence of the reseller to make the right decision and to move quicker to deployments.

How much are customers saving versus MPLS when they go with Talari?

On average, a make-back period winds up being somewhere on the order of four to eight months in general with a constant recurring return. A big customer of ours had 300 lines of MPLS, they were paying $600 per month times 12 months times 300 locations. They were spending millions of dollars in MPLS costs. Deploying SD-WAN, they're able to within a few months have higher reliability, greater predictability and have less than half of that total cost.

What drove the strategy behind Cloud Connect?

There's a lot of good stuff that's been done by companies like VeloCloud, which has created this AOL-ish type network in conjunction with carriers. We don't believe the future for companies is to bind themselves to a single carrier and find themselves in a locked-in ecosystem. We're focused on how you get freedom from the carriers, but still get access to SaaS applications in an incredibly high-quality way. For us, the answer is Cloud Connect, taking the best implementation of the Talari fail-safe SD-WAN product and being able to deploy it in three examples. One is when there are major providers like Ring Central, 8X8, others like that, they're providing a robust UCaaS service, but when you get into a multi-distributed network environment, you have to make some choices. How are you going to optimize things? MPLS is kind of expensive to route a ton of stuff. What if you had the best technical solution in the marketplace that was cohabitated in the UCaaS vendor's location. Can you simply provision it?

What vendor partners are you working with on Cloud Connect?

There are bunch of interesting cloud service gateway providers already out there. One we have a partnership with is Mode. That solves the problem in a different way. You get multitenant implementation. Mode deploys the Talari SD-WAN solution, the Cloud Connect solution into their closest gateways. Because that last mile between the closest PoP and things like Office365, Marketo, is a very high-speed, low-latency network. You get the best of both worlds. You don't have to tie yourself to a carrier, but you're getting up to this provider and the provider is providing the fast on-ramp. You have your dependency on VoIP apps, video, database transactions, VDI, whatever it might be. You're getting the Talari advantage and you don't have the expensive administrative overhead. It allows the providers to have a higher-quality service that they can guarantee. For big providers, it's very hard to get into their infrastructure. We provide that high-speed on-ramp between Mode and the SaaS provider while providing all the benefits. We just have the deployment at Mode's location.

Do you have security vendor partners, too?

There's another partner we're working with in the Cloud Connect product: Meta, which is doing network security as a service. That allows you to get the best of all worlds and get to a highly secure conduit and then get to your big SaaS applications. You get global security capability without having to do it over limited, VPN-based access, or single tunnel access. You get all the benefits of the SD-WAN: multi-link connectivity, multi-circuit-based connectivity, all the logic, all the capability, and you still get the access.

What aspect of Cloud Connect are you most enthusiastic about?

I love the fact that it makes it dead simple. You get all these qualities in the Talari user interface if you have a UCaaS-based provider. If you have RingCentral, for example, you just do a drop-down menu and you have Cloud Connect automatically connected from our network control node, and it takes care of how it's going to do most of the provisioning. There aren't a lot of clicks beyond that. If you're using one of the big Mode networks, if you want to tie into Virginia because it's your best location, for example, then you do a drop-down and you can connect in that way. It really delivers a high-quality experience when accessing the cloud. One-click configuration makes it very simple to deploy. It drives down the cost and administrative headaches.

And it's carrier-agnostic?

It is carrier-agnostic. When we think about the world, the whole point of getting away from MPLS is that it's ridiculously expensive. It is a binding contract for three, four, five years. For us, this allows the company to continuously be able to arbitrate whoever is the best provider for [customers]. That's the simple story behind Cloud Connect.

What are you seeing in the economy broadly that's working in Talari's favor?

Digital transformation keeps going and we've hit a tipping point. The tipping point is there's no way that the high-reliability applications that people need can fit through the narrowness of the existing MPLS pipes and there's no way that companies will increase MPLS usage. It's 100 times the cost per bit. With digital transformation, companies must increase their quality of experience to MPLS quality, but they need five times to 10 times the capacity. We've hit the tipping point. There's no way of fitting mission-critical traffic through existing MPLS pipes. There's no way companies are ever going to spend more than they're spending today on MPLS. That is going to force the adaptation and adoption of a different kind of network. It forces the adoption of SD-WAN so they can retain the quality while getting 10 times the bandwidth while actually reducing cost.