Network Cloud: Can It Simplify Your Cloud Journey?

eWEEK NETWORK TREND ANALYSIS: Savvy investor Koch Industries bets big on Alkira to bring in the era of cloud networking.

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Every enterprise moving to the cloud has discovered pitfalls and challenges with the network that slows down deployments. The limitations of legacy networks certainly aren’t new, but now they’re becoming business impacting. 

Because of this, there are dozens of companies promising a better way of doing things. These “cloud networking panaceas” claim they will reduce network complexity, increase agility and provide a smooth path to shift IT applications to hybrid, multi-cloud networks, defined as a mix of public and private cloud resources. In multi-cloud networking alone, there are dozens of entrants addressing every aspect of orchestration, monitoring, mid-mile network-as-a-service (NaaS), security integration, virtual firewall management and others. Each company promises--and in many cases--can deliver a point solution which the enterprise then needs to patch together with the other point solutions.

Networks are moving to an ‘as a service’ model

Legacy networking companies, pressured by Wall Street, have repeatedly promised ARR and more network services. Investors understand that a NaaS offering can only simplify the journey to the cloud when these point solutions are replaced by a unified networking infrastructure that can connect the multiple clouds and integrate the network with services. And while each quarter Wall Street gets an update on the progress, the reality is that it’s no simple pivot to an end-to-end, on-demand NaaS. 

Also, many of the NaaS services available from traditional vendors are “as-a-service” in name only. They take legacy hardware, have the customer pay a one-time fee for the hardware, then move the operating system to a software subscription model. There certainly are some benefits to this because it creates better budget efficiency and ensures more consistent feature delivery, but it doesn’t change the operating model. A better way is needed. 

Viptela vets found startup Alkira to deliver cloud-native networks 

Enter Alkira and Amir Khan and Atif Khan, the SD-WAN pioneers from Viptela. Alkira came out of stealth mode in April with the promise to simplify multi-cloud networking. They are now touting the Alkira Cloud Services Exchange (CSX) as the first network cloud. According to Alkira, a network cloud is a global unified network infrastructure delivered as a service with connectivity for hybrid and multi-cloud networks, integrated network and security services, and end-to-end operational visibility and governance. Alkira lets you design your network changes on a canvas and deploy it in minutes.

Koch Industries invests $54 million in Alkira 

This is a big vision for a startup, but based on the success of Viptela, the Khan brothers have an impressive track record. I’m also too much of a skeptic to jump on board after viewing a smooth story and a PowerPoint. We all fell for that with the early days of software-defined networking. But when a company like Koch Industries, one of the largest private companies in the U.S. with an estimated revenue of $115 billion and 130,000 employees in more than seven countries and is heavily invested in the cloud, deploys Alkira and announces its investment arm led a $54 million round in Alkira to change the networking business model, Alkira just may be for real.

Alkira is deployed in a global production network building Koch’s cloud network backbone and expanding its network infrastructure to multi-cloud. After seeing firsthand how Alkira’s powerful and intuitive network simplified the company’s transition to the cloud, Chase Koch himself, president of the company’s investment arm, supported Koch Disruptive Technologies in leading the investment.

Jason Illian, Managing Director of Koch Disruptive Technologies, will join the Alkira board of directors and believes that Amir and Atif Khan have an unmatched track record, team and architecture for the network cloud, which Koch believes will be more disruptive than SD-WAN. Koch sees a changing business model as companies recognize the value in moving to a network on demand. In Koch’s case, Alkira’s technology has allowed the company to execute its cloud networking operations in days or mere hours from what used to be six to 18 months.

Koch’s Georgia-Pacific and Invista divisions have published case studies about their AWS deployments and are large AWS customers. Koch has been quite acquisitive with more than $26 billion in acquisitions over the past six years, including a $2 billion investment in Infor, the cloud software vendor, before acquiring them early this year for what was rumored to be $13 billion. 

First global network cloud as a service?

Koch is a big AWS customer and is heavily vested in their cloud journey. AWS is its cloud service provider, and Alkira is its network cloud provider. Another proof point of the company comes from William Collins, a lead cloud architect at a Fortune 100, who posted a very in-depth piece on GitHub regarding the company's Alkira multi-cloud networking Journey.

Alkira Cloud Services Exchange appears to be the first global network cloud delivered as-a-service, and I expect there will be others. Alkira offers a consistent and dramatically simplified networking experience for on-premises, cloud and multi-cloud environments with integrated network and security services and full operational visibility and governance.

“The edge is the new cloud, and enterprises are making their strategic moves in the cloud and entrusting the Alkira Network Cloud with their global network needs,” said CEO Amir Khan. Amir said the market for network cloud is huge. One Wall Street analyst who didn’t want to be quoted pegged this at potentially more than $50 billion. 

Amir said he is focused on building Alkira and taking it to the public market in a few years, but does Koch agree? Given the rapid pace of innovation in the networking industry, Alkira would make an excellent acquisition target for the traditional network vendors or the cloud vendors looking to add multi-cloud networking to their portfolio. In either case, networking is on the precipice of change.

Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.