Apcela makes a play into the managed IT enterprise sector

Application delivery company Apcela is using SD-WAN to serve enterprise customers. (Apcela)

Application delivery company Apcela has had several evolutionary turns throughout its history, but now it's firmly focused on the enterprise sector. 

Apcela was founded as CSX Fiber Networks—and subsequently renamed CFN Services—back in 2005 with a focus on helping large carriers, such as AT&T and MCI, optimize their networks, according to Apcela CEO Mark Casey.

Around 2008, the company shifted its focus towards optimizing networks for high-performance securities trading, specifically within high-frequency trading. In 2015, CFN expanded into the enterprise IT sector.  

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The company launched its core application, AppHub, for hybrid IT environments in 2012. AppHub is a low-latency application delivery platform that uses a distributed edge infrastructure. In 2016, the company added SD-WAN into its AppHUB platform and rebranded itself as Apcela.

"And so that kind of brings us to today and really this third phase," Casey said in an interview with FierceTelecom. "What we did is we took all that sort of know how around delivering high-performance applications in a next-gen environment and started to attack the enterprise market, which has evolved into a cloud architecture and into distributed application delivery for hybrid IT. The problem we're focused on is this migration from the legacy telco networking way in architecture to sort of modern-day where applications are moving.

"Enterprises are running behind cloud first initiatives, they're digitally transforming themselves, and they're starting to reform and refactor propriety or legacy applications to run in public infrastructure as a service. That leads them to this hybrid IT world where they've got one foot planted in the old architecture of the premises-based data center, and one foot planted in new cloud world."

Casey said enterprises were in various stages in regards to having one foot still in data centers and the other in cloud-based initiatives. Apcela uses a "cloud-ready" SD-WAN architecture that's anchored across carrier neutral collocation data centers such as Equinox, CyrusOne and CoreSite.

Apcela's AppHUB platform, which is an overlay on the software layer of SD-WANs, provides enterprises with application performance management, WAN optimization, load balancing, security and routing, and low latency. Apcela is primarily working with Versa Networks and Cisco's Viptela SD-WAN solutions, but it's looking for more SD-WAN partners.

"What we're building as a company is what we broadly call an application delivery platform," Casey said. "You can kind of think about that as infrastructure as-a-service. Today it's compute as storage, but we'd like to take that same model to deploy for application delivery tomorrow. So sort of a virtualized, simple to use, elastic and adaptable application delivery stack, which includes the network, the switching and the routing, the security to prevent intrusion, security detection, data loss protection, and secure web gateways.

"But as we move further towards the edge we can move to more merchant silicon. In what we call our hybrid AppHUBs, we've got security-based hardware at the base of the stack, but then we're simply leveraging someone else's infrastructure as a service platform to run virtualized network functions. Then as we get all the way out to the edge everything is virtual, we can run everything on merchant silicon."

Competitive arena

in regards to SD-WAN, Casey said that Cato Networks and Aryaka Networks were most often mentioned in the same breath as Apcela because their network models are similar. One of the benefits of SDN-WAN is routing less important traffic to the public internet instead of using more expensive MPLS connectivity.

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"We don't really come up against Aryaka and Cato too often head-to-head," Casey said. "We're more focused on sort of Global 2000 companies where MPLS isn't going to go away tomorrow. Both Cato and Aryaka are sort of rip and replace solutions, but they also are integrating multiple components of what we call the application delivery stack. Then there's Zscaler. Sometimes we work with Zscaler when we're a good fit together and sometimes we compete against Zscaler.

Casey said Apcela competes more in the SD-WAN playing field with large-scale global carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, BT, Orange and NTT. Casey said the differentiator between Apcela and large global providers was that the latter "doesn't really care that your application isn't working."

"With the large carriers, If your application isn't working but their network is delivering the five nines of availability, it's not really their problem, it's yours, so that's one of the big, big, big differences," he said. "Large enterprises are sick and tired of that, right? They are sick and tired of the lumbering pace of large carriers; the amount of time it takes to get a new MPLS connection up to reconfigure and network to do any of that stuff.

"I think the carriers might argue that SD-WAN gives some control back to the customer around that kind of stuff. To carriers, SD-WAN is just a piece of edge equipment that needs to be managed when in fact SD-WAN is a lot more than a piece of edge equipment. We treat SD-WAN as the glue that helps integrate this application delivery stack."

Apcela's global platform reaches 185 sites in 41 countries. Apcela's customer list includes financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Nasdaq and Dow Jones, as well as Lego and Equinix. Casey said that Apcela's current business was roughly 80% capital markets-based and 20% IT enterprise-based.

But Apcela is banking that the third time is a charm for the company's bottom line today and well into the future.

"I think if the world plays out well for us, you'll start to hear more about things like application delivery networks and application delivery platforms," Casey said. "We don't spend tons of time talking about that because that's pure evangelist territory, but that's really what we're driving towards. We have a platform that sets up really well for edge infrastructure and ultimately IoT. IoT is important for us, which is part of why the automation is important for us because the more devices and users you've got to manage the more critical automation becomes.

"I think you're really driving towards automation with these sort of closed-loop systems and the beauty of these next-generation platforms of tools is that they are all controllable via APIs. Our goal is to be the preeminent global application delivery platform provider of IT."