Anuta Networks breaks all the rules of SDN (software-defined networking): it doesn’t go on and on about the so-called “SDN revolution;” it doesn’t try to get customers to rip out and replace their existing networking gear; unlike most SDN startups it has real revenue today, and finally, it doesn’t want any venture capital money.
The SDN revolution exploded onto the networking scene about three years ago. It was driven by the frustration many cloud and network managers felt over networks. The network was (and still is) the slowest and most labor-intensive part of the IT infrastructure when it comes to configuring, managing, and modifying that infrastructure. The issues are summarized in Amazon’s James Hamilton’s influential 2010 paper entitled Data Center Networks Are in My Way, where Hamilton attacks networking gear as the “SUV” of the data center: overlarge, overpriced, energy hogs, unwieldy to manage. The vision peddled by Hamilton, and soon after by dozens of startups, was of a data center full of slimmed-down dumb switches managed by one super-smart software-driven controller, and probably using a new open-source language called OpenFlow. Think of it as an army of dumb supermodels subsisting on a lettuce leaf and a carrot a day and following, in unison and with no delay, the commands of an all-knowing super-smart controller like, say, Simon Cowell. This vision was quickly embraced by Wall Street investors who for years have been looking at Cisco’s (Nasdaq: CSCO) high profit margins and wondering when they would tumble down to levels that other hardware makers get. Replacing Cisco’s expensive proprietary Catalyst switches with a slim, dumb model would drive down Cisco’s margins, as well as network prices. Unfortunately, despite more than a dozen razzamatazz startups being funded, this vision has yet to be fulfilled.
We encountered Anuta at the NYC Interop show in early October. They were the only SDN startup with a booth, perhaps because they could be the only one with a fully working, shippable product. Anuta Chief Technology Officer Srini Beereddy explained that there are many networking problems that can be solved with software, and revolutionizing the inside of the data center is just one. Anuta instead focused on the problem of enterprises running networks that span one or multiple campuses and who need to turn up new services quickly. “There are lots of enterprises who are challenged to roll out new services. You have to deploy VLANs [virtual local area networks], create firewall rules, and configure load balancers, and do it all quickly. We solve that problem by understanding all the devices and the features and modeling the feature set.”
The Anuta NCX is a software solution that runs on a standard server and manages the devices in the network by communicating with an Anuta “agent” or piece of software installed on the various routers and other network devices. It can configure the devices and “provision” (i.e. initiate) new services upon request, say when a new department is added in a company or a new application is added to the IT arsenal. United Airlines is one large enterprise that is studying the Anuta NCX as a way to simplify its network management. “Anuta does something we sorely need,” explains United Enterprise Network Manager Brandon Mangold. “We have thousands of network devices running in hundreds of sites. Any time we want to do multitenancy, or other cloud features, we have to configure a large number of devices in a very precise way. It’s onerous at best. Anuta provides a way to abstract away all this complexity and overhead.”
Anuta CEO Chandu Guntakala says that about eight months ago, Anuta’s business began to take off. Customers include both enterprises and service providers, and they have customers in the US, Europe, and Asia, with a concentration in Japan where they have some heavyweight distributors. “We are closing multiple multimillion dollar deals now. There is a big shift. People want to use SDN to save on opex costs,” he says. Guntakala won’t reveal his revenue expectations for this year, but says it is at multimillion-dollar levels. He describes $50 million as a “conservative” medium-term estimate for Anuta’s revenue potential. United’s Mangold says if he signs a deal with Anuta, it will be worth well over $1 million.
Today Anuta, based in Milpitas, California with an engineering office in Bangalore, is all about growth. They are hiring sales staff in multiple countries, and adding distributors to help them access the thousands of customers they think they can get. Today they are close to 70 employees, up from about 50 a year ago. The three founders and “more than half” the company, Guntakala says, are ex-Cisco. One thing they are not interested in is venture capital finance. They founded the company with their own funds and don’t need any more money. “VCs call us all the time to talk about investing,” laughs VP of Communications Monica Read. “It’s gotten so we recognize the numbers on the phone and we don’t pick up the call.”
It’s ironic that although SDN is often presented as a “revolution” that could unseat the dominant network players, this SDN company’s success could actually help them maintain their position. One challenge for companies with many Cisco devices in their networks is the management challenge—–different generations of Cisco devices often have different configuration requirements so they need to be dealt with individually. “We help people deal with their existing equipment by reducing the pain of configuring their devices,” explains Beereddy.
Brandon Mangold says there’s a debate over whether what Anuta does should even be described as SDN. In his view, SDN involves real-time control of network devices, not just managing them (typically done only when a new service is configured or changed). He points out that Anuta does have competition, including a new product from Cisco, the APIC Enterprise Manager. But this product is focused more on managing Cisco devices, where Anuta is very much vendor-agnostic. The other competitive threat could come from some of the more revolutionary SDN players, who might produce a solution that does all the controlling and management in one box. But Mangold agrees that that is some way off. “The others are going after nirvana, while Anuta targeted the low-hanging fruit, network management, which has always been a total nightmare. They are in a great position and they will continue to do very well.”
As they pull in top-tier enterprise customers, they should become an increasingly attractive acquisition target for somebody with deep pockets.
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