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Network cables in a data center

Alkira Builds a SaaS to Replace Your Cloud Backbone

Startup by Khan brothers, of Viptela fame, aims to simplify multi-cloud and on-prem. data center interconnection.

Cloud networking startup Alkira has launched what it describes as Cloud Backbone-as-a-Service. The goal is to enable companies to easily connect their data centers with branch locations, remote users, and even multiple cloud providers with a few clicks.

The two-year-old San Jose, California-based company, which recently raised a $54 million Series B funding round, is the brainchild of CEO Amir Khan and CTO Atif Khan, brothers who in 2017 sold their SD-WAN startup Viptela to Cisco for $610 million.

In April, Alkira introduced Cloud Network-as-a-Service, which allows companies to connect their on-premises networks to the public cloud. If they use the multi-cloud approach, the service lets them connect their public cloud providers together.

The service announced this week goes a step further by allowing customers to link on-premises sites and remote users together.

“What we are announcing is physical-site-to-physical-site connectivity,” Atif Khan told DCK in an interview. “If you have a branch and need to connect to a data center, or need to connect two data centers through a high-speed network, we have added that functionality.”

Solving the Multi-Cloud Networking Problem

Alkira is vying for a piece of the emerging multi-cloud networking market, IDC analyst Brad Casemore told us. As enterprises have migrated apps to public clouds and Software-as-a-Service environments, data centers and data center networks have become distributed, creating the need for interconnecting many locations and platforms. Multi-cloud networking solutions must be easy to manage, on-demand, scalable, and highly available, he said.

One possible use case is when an enterprise wants to build and host an app in one cloud because it’s cheaper but doesn’t want to spend the time and expense of porting the necessary data that’s currently housed in another cloud, Amir Khan, Alkira’s CEO, told DCK. By creating a high-speed, low-latency multi-cloud network through a service like Alkira, the enterprise can build that app in the cloud it prefers without having to move data from the other cloud.

Cloud providers offer a variety of multi-cloud networking solutions, according to a recent IDC report, authored by Casemore. AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud provide cloud cores, global transit networks, and cloud WANs. Meanwhile, SDN vendors have beefed up their software to support consistent network and security policies from on-premises data centers to hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

Alkira is one of four innovative startups in the multi-cloud networking space Casemore has identified. The others are Aviatrix, Nefeli Networks, and Volterra.

Among them, Aviatrix, founded in 2014, has been around the longest and has the most customers: 450. But it’s taking a different approach from Alkira’s, selling on-premises software enterprises have to install and manage themselves, as opposed to SaaS, Casemore wrote.

Casemore said Alkira has the potential to succeed. Its founders have a proven track record. It’s new backbone-as-a-service addition complements and fills out the company’s overall hybrid/multi-cloud networking solution, but competition will be fierce, he said.

“It is offering a cloud-like, as-a-service approach to simplifying the inherent complexity of networking across multicloud clouds,” Casemore told us. “The vendor that achieves the greatest simplicity in that area – effectively abstracting the complexity – will stand to benefit from enterprise adoption.”  

Alkira’s Cloud Backbone-as-a-Service

Alkira’s Cloud Backbone-as-a-Service is global, high-speed, and low-latency, the startup’s executives said. It includes integrated network and security services, such as the ability to add on Palo Alto Networks’ next-generation firewall.

The service also connects regional SD-WAN “islands” from the same vendor or different SD-WAN vendors, the company said. It also includes advanced routing controls, full segmentation capabilities, and built-in path redundancy.

Alkira’s cloud networking services are built on top of hyperscale cloud providers. “We have built our own software platform,” Atif Khan told DCK. “Think of it as our routers or a cluster of routers and switches, which are running on their (cloud providers’) compute infrastructure.”

Customers can easily and quickly create, provision, and manage networks through Alkira’s portal. Its drag-and-drop ease of use reduces network deployment time from months to minutes, said Amir Khan.

Like other cloud services, enterprises using Alkira’s service can save costs and not have to manage the underlying infrastructure, he said. The company claims that its Cloud Backbone-as-a-Service can slash the cost of legacy backbone and security services by more than half.

Alkira did not disclose pricing for Cloud Backbone-as-a-Service, but the executives said the cost is a fraction of what enterprises pay for their own infrastructure and its maintenance.

As for remote users working from home, they can connect to the Alkira network using any OpenSSL VPN client. “For the remote user, we provide a zero trust network access functionality,” Atif Khan said. “If you have internet, you can use your existing CPE (customer premise equipment) device that supports IPSec.”

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