Routes to Success in Software Defined Networking


Since the turn of the century, the founder and CEO of Apstra, a Silicon Valley networking software start-up advancing intent-based networking, has been influencing the way � data center networks are built and operated.

Mansour Karam is an entrepreneur who clearly loves to build high tech digital infrastructure companies from the ground up, and has a track record to prove that with the right ideas and the right people, passion and commitment to quality, the creation of enormous enterprise value is not only possible, but probable.

Prior to Apstra, Mansour contributed to several startups and led teams across engineering, product management, business development, and sales.

In 2000, he joined Routescience as a Principal Architect, where he helped design the company’s product and led various customer and partner engagements that resulted in the company’s acquisition by Avaya. In 2006 Mansour joined Arista Networks where he worked closely with early customers to define key product requirements and deliver the company’s first product to market.

By 2014, having subsequently developed vertical markets, marketing, sales and partnership strategies and establishing global business alliances, Arista Networks (ANET) went on to become a public company in 2014 with a $4B valuation. Arista Networks’ valuation continued to continue steadily and is close to $20B today.

“From working closely with enterprises, cloud service provider, and telco organisations to help them build and operate network infrastructure more efficiently, we know the operational aspects of networking haven’t been addressed to the extent that they needed to be. For every dollar spent in capex, companies spend $3 to $5 in OpEx. Eighty percent of it is spent on manual operations. The network is still a key hurdle to new business initiatives. “ 

After Arista, Karam was recruited to join the executive team at SDN pioneer Big Switch Networks to develop the company’s product, business model, and partnership strategy, and today, with a portfolio of patents in networking technologies, an MS and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, and  a B.S. in Computer & Communications Engineering from the American University of Beirut, he is pushing new limits as the way networks are built, operated, controlled and optimized by software.

When asked how Apstra coined the phrase “intent-based networking” in 2016, Karam explained that with the company’s software solution, IT departments can plan their network objectives in Apstra’s tool which then morphs into the system which allows them to orchestrate, operate and scale their networks – in a vendor agnostic manner.

“Intent-Based Networking automates all aspects of designing, building, deploying and operating network services - and in the process dramatically simplifies the consumption of these services by business applications. Because of the abstractions built into the solution, the solution is hardware independent and liberates customers from being locked into any specific network hardware vendor. A ‘software-first approach’ starts with the business needs and the infrastructure services that are required by the infrastructure. Once these are defined, then infrastructure teams and procurement organizations are free to choose the hardware of their choosing based on the criteria they care about: cost, second-sourcing, feature capability, or reliability.”

Last month at a NetEvents conference in San Jose, Apstra unveiled new features on their Apstra Operating System (AOS) with the general availability of version 3.1. An important addition, according to the company, was support for VMware’s massively popular NSX-T solution. New features included seamless participation of the physical infrastructure in NSX-T deployment and operations, a process that otherwise requires error-prone manual operations and coordination across different infrastructure teams. Apstra’s integration with NSX-T also bridges the visibility between overlay and underlay, enabling faster network services and troubleshooting of the network, making NSX-T naturally more valuable.

“Network virtualisation offers the only practical way to provide this automated experience. NSX with Apstra AOS enables customers to treat the network infrastructure as code,” said Nikhil Kelshikar, vice president of product management, networking and security at VMware. “This helps to accelerate deployments by bridging the gap with the physical underlay, reducing operational costs and simplifying troubleshooting.”

“Since Apstra primarily targets enterprise customers, an integration with NSX-T, is a common request and a natural addition to Apstra’s Intent-Based Networking solution. Apstra and VMware are enabling businesses to drive cloud-scale availability, resiliency, and efficiencies in private data centers while maintaining unified policy across these data centers and the public cloud.”

Core to Apstra’s “Intent Based Networking” solution is Apstra’s “Intent Based Analytics” (IBA) capabilities that provide continuous validations and uniquely detect deviations from intent. IBA can also root cause those intent deviations, and measure impact in terms of application performance.

“With Intent Based Analytics network operators can quickly detect and prevent a wide range of service level violations – including security breaches, performance degradations, and traffic imbalances – and can root cause these violations. You can’t self-remediate what you can’t root cause, so IBA is fundamental to auto-remediation capabilities and brings the industry closer to the vision of a Self-Operating Network”

Mansour co-founded Apstra in 2014 with CTO Sasha Ratkovic, a Juniper fellow and leader in domain abstractions and model driven automation and Chief Scientist David Cheriton, the founder and investor in Arista and first investor in Google and VMware.

“The Apstra culture is to provide an environment where high performers can thrive and achieve their full potential. We do this by keeping overhead to a minimum and providing our team members autonomy and a clear purpose.”

Asked for his predictions for 2025 after beginning his work in the world of intelligent routing, Karam said:

“I predict that in 2025, software will play a prominent role in the delivery of network infrastructure services; and that as a result, network infrastructure is no longer a hurdle to business initiatives. In that vein, organizations that continue to partner with hardware vendors as their main suppliers of infrastructure services will fall behind, while those that focus on software and services, and partner accordingly will accelerate their lead. Apstra aims to help every organization navigate this transition, by delivering software that helps them automate all aspects of engineering and operating their network services.”

Arti Loftus is an experienced Information Technology specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the research, writing, and editing industry with many published articles under her belt.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

Special Correspondent

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