Avi Networks is this month's Network Innovation Award winner for its software-defined application delivery controller, or ADC, and the ADC's ability to provide Layer 4-7 services to containerized applications running in cloud environments. Avi, based in Santa Clara, Calif., launched its ADC in late 2014. SearchNetworking spoke with Avi CEO Amit Pandey to discuss the company's origins and how the application delivery market has changed.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let's talk about the approach Avi took to developing its software ADC. What did you find lacking in the ADC segment and what did you think you'd be able to provide?
Amit Pandey: Avi was started by people who, while at Cisco, had a lot of experience developing SDN. And during that process, what they realized is that SDN was being deployed because IT departments needed to respond to the desire to be flexible and to accommodate rapidly changing environments.
But what they also realized is that the last bit of networking that connects applications to the rest of the network -- almost like the last mile, if you will -- was very inflexible. Nobody had done any innovation in that space since pretty much 1999, when companies like F5 and others developed the application delivery controller. That realization led them to say, "Well, to really take full benefit of a software-defined network, you need to address that last mile that connects the application and provide networking services to the app." And that was the inception of Avi.
What specifically makes Avi's approach to application delivery control stand apart?
Pandey: The Avi software ADC follows the principles of SDN. It has a centralized controller. It has a distributed data plane. It can be used in private clouds, public clouds, in containers, in OpenStack, in VMware environments and all with a single pane of glass. It gives you a unified perspective across all those environments. And it lets you move applications across these environments.
Is the continuing maturation of SDN a big driver?
Pandey: SDN is part of it, but SDN is kind of a co-actor with us. The real drivers are people building clouds, moving into clouds, making their data centers more flexible and how they are borrowing a page from the way Amazon and other large companies like Facebook [manage their networks]. That's been the big driver.
Amit PandeyCEO, Avi Networks
Explain what makes your approach different from what was out there previously. Is it the programmability, the agility, the analytics? What exactly do you think makes the Avi software ADC stand apart?
Pandey: I think it's all of these factors. To start with, it's all software and it's a very lightweight footprint. So, you can deploy it in the cloud with the push of a button. You can deploy it in a container with the push of a button, or your VMware environment, or on a bare-metal server if you want to run it in a more traditional way. So the fact that it can seamlessly work across these environments is probably the biggest difference from a deployment perspective. Then when you add to that the fact that, because we do have this architecture based on a central controller with a distributed data plane, we were able to build a lot of analytics into the data plane.
What are some of the other capabilities that this separation enables?
Pandey: The kind of visibility that we provide from our software ADC is unparalleled. You cannot get that from the more traditional [ADC] products. You can do a lot of troubleshooting. In fact, the analytics is so detailed and so insightful that a lot of customers of ours would deploy the product just for the analytics. We can also provide a whole host of microservices. We can provide isolation for microservices. We can actually do microsegmentations of the services to provide a really high level of security. So it's the ability to be distributed, the ability to do analytics, the ability to do microsegmentation, and security. These, taken together, really take us well beyond what current-day ADCs can deliver.
Talk a little bit about what you did to extend the integration with containers. What are the benefits of your approach when it comes to enterprises that are using containers?
Pandey: First and foremost, we deploy within a container, which you really cannot do with commercial products available today. And so it makes it really easy to move us along with your application to whichever environment you might want to deploy in. The great thing about containers is that they're very simple, they're lightweight, but they're also very fungible. You can take a container and very easily move it to another data center or another cloud. And the fact that we work within the container makes it very easy to do that.
Second, containers, a lot of times, go hand in hand with microservices architectures. That means you're taking a big application, splitting it up into lots of little pieces and then -- while that's great because it helps you scale and it helps you manage things -- it also creates the need for visibility. You really want to know what's going on between those nodes. Which app is talking to which app? Which micro-app might be slower than another one? How do they contribute to the performance of the overall pie? And so our analytics, because we're able to give you detailed analytics for each of those containers, is a real boon. People are able to make application maps in real time, figure out where the latencies are, and really get a good sense of their distributed application.
Where do you see your customer-base? Has it changed at all in the months that you've had your software ADC available?
Pandey: It has. It started with large web-scale companies that had a lot of users -- big retailers and others. In the last nine months, we're getting many, many more enterprises that want to make their applications more flexible and need analytics for their apps. They like the visibility that we bring. And they like the fact that they're using the same management console for both their on-premises apps and their cloud apps.
What is Avi working on now? Are there particular areas that you're paying attention to?
Pandey: It's such a dynamic environment that we continue to add new technology. New orchestration layers would be one, and more public cloud support. We are in Amazon and we are beginning to deploy in Azure. We need to look at other clouds, like IBM's. The container environment itself is very dynamic so there are more and more orchestration layers for containers that we are adding. Our customers are trying new things, are adopting new technologies, and we need to make sure they can deploy with us.
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