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Viptela names former Cisco exec Akkiraju CEO amid SD-WAN market shift

Viptela, a startup in the SD-WAN market, taps former Cisco exec Praveen Akkiraju as its new CEO. Akkiraju's immediate goal for Viptela is to help customers migrate to the cloud.

Viptela has appointed former Cisco exec Praveen Akkiraju as its new CEO, succeeding founder Amir Khan, who will stay on as president. Akkiraju is the former CEO for VCE, the converged infrastructure business that is now a division of Dell EMC, and he has 19 years of experience running multiple routing platforms at Cisco. Viptela -- a software-defined WAN startup founded in 2012 -- has made a name for itself in the burgeoning SD-WAN market.

In an interview with SearchSDN, Akkiraju said his first order of business as new CEO is to meet with customers to better understand their expectations and to find out how customers think Viptela is doing. Akkiraju said he intends to push Viptela toward answering what he sees as the fundamental problem: connecting users at the edge to applications in the cloud.

While Akkiraju said his VCE background of working with customers on cloud infrastructures and migrating applications to the cloud will provide a beneficial perspective, he credited Viptela with being well-positioned in the SD-WAN market to take on the challenge. While some vendors come from application acceleration, security or cloud portal angles, he said Viptela's ground-up architecture will be a differentiator.

"If you look at Viptela's architecture -- the way they have laid out the branch connectivity, the centralized controllers, the management plane, being hosted in AWS [Amazon Web Services] -- I think their architecture is fundamentally different," Akkiraju said.

A differentiating factor is key in a market filled to the brim with other vendors and service providers, especially as SD-WAN continues to progress and customers fine-tune their needs -- and whether those needs are met. While Viptela claims thousands of production deployments and a presence in major SD-WAN verticals, the startup company is competing with several big-name, established vendors, including Cisco, Citrix, Riverbed Technology Inc. and Silver Peak Inc. But Akkiraju said Viptela has made great strides to become well-established as a credible player.

"The interesting part about this market is there are multiple different players trying to essentially rebrand themselves as software-defined WAN," Akkiraju said. "There's a WAN optimization angle to this; there's a security angle to this; obviously, there's the routing angle. We are established as a credible at-scale player from a security and a routing perspective."

SD-WAN changing the industry

IDC and Gartner reports reflect the WAN market's rapid shift, as SD-WAN begins to replace stand-alone enterprise routers and WAN optimization functionalities. Akkiraju said he is excited for the "second wave of disruption." The first wave of SDN disrupted the data center, and he said the second wave will be determining how to deliver the network at the speed of applications.

"We're going to actually explore different ways to address the services that need to be delivered in the WAN," Akkiraju said. "Some of them could be through partnerships; some of them could be homegrown capability; and some of them could be delivering them in a different way -- for example, hosting them in the cloud and being able to deliver services through the cloud."

Viptela has made inroads by extending its SD-WAN to AWS and Microsoft Azure, which make up a considerable portion of the public cloud industry. Viptela hosts 90% of its customers' control planes in the cloud, and Viptela's own architecture is hosted extensively in AWS, Akkiraju said. He said Viptela would extend services to other public cloud platforms, like IBM or Google. But, like the decisions to extend to AWS and Azure, those decisions will be customer-driven. In the meantime, he said Viptela will look to the cloud.

"Today, we obviously have a hardware platform. But one of the things I'm going to be pushing the team toward is essentially being able to run our vEdge software on generic x86 platforms," Akkiraju said. This, he said, would enable Viptela to ship a hardware device if a customer desired, or Viptela could run the vEdge software in the cloud, thereby providing flexible hosting options.

Viptela is capitalizing on an SD-WAN market that is forcing vendors to re-examine how they can better integrate with public cloud platforms and determine how their foundations can become more open. To Akkiraju and Viptela, a market dominated by multiple proprietary answers probably won't be sufficient for enterprises hosting various clients, endpoints and devices. 

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