Industry Voices—Raynovich: Alkira builds the path to IP backbone as-a-service

networking
Alkira launches the industry's first cloud backbone-as-a-service to reduce the cost of legacy backbone and security services. (Pixabay)

Alkira, one of the more interesting companies emerging in the rapidly accelerating multi-cloud networking (MCN) and network as-as-service (NaaS) market, announced today that it's expanding the functionality of its Cloud Services Exchange (CSX) to provide a full, global network backbone on demand. 

The concept may be simple, but the technology most certainly is not. Alkira's goal is to enable any enterprise or service provider to instantly provision a secure, global network using software —without any need to know anything about the underlying infrastructure. 

Why is this important? Because it's 2020—the Year of the Cloud—and the velocity at which enterprises must connect to cloud resources is increasing. Building networks the old-fashioned way—by calling up a service provider, stacking boxes, and waiting to have things plugged in—is too slow. It must now be done with software tools and cloud-native technologies. Why not let somebody else do it for you, on demand? 

It's an ambitious goal and concept that drives the concept of NaaS deeper into the heart of service provider territory. 

What's new about Alkira?

Alkira came out of the gate earlier this year with a deep pedigree and engineering talent. The sibling team of CEO Amir Khan and CTO Atif Khan have worked together for decades, and were most recently known for their success at SD-WAN pioneer Viptela, which was sold to Cisco in 2017 for $610 million. 

RELATED: Raynovich: Startup Alkira’s Khan brothers tap multi-cloud magic

Alkira's CSX has been out since the beginning of the year and the company has already announced a significant customer that is also a major investor, the private, multi-billion dollar Koch Industries. But this latest unveil includes new features to build a global networking backbone, which Alkira calls Cloud Backbone-as-a-Service (CBaaS). This is a full high-speed, low-latency backbone that interconnects users, sites and clouds with segmentation. Customers can expand backbone network capacity as needed for every site on-demand. 

"We provide a global backbone on demand," Alkira CEO Amir Khan told me in a phone briefing. "Even the largest service providers don’t have the capability to do this."

Some of the features of Alkira's CBaaS now include firewall auto-scaling and zero-trust network access (ZTNA), an approach to network security that uses identity-based authentication to bake security automatically into the network. The Alkira CBaaS also boasts advanced routing controls and network segmentation. 

In short, what Alkira is doing is expanding the power of the IP "overlay" that uses IP-based routing technologies to build fully featured virtual networks. The Khan brothers, who have deep resumes going back through routing leaders Cisco and Juniper, have a pattern of targeting innovative new ways to simplify IP networking to build more sophisticated ways to leverage underlying routing technology. At Viptela, they separated the control plane from the data plane in a clever way to automate the provisioning of virtual private networks (VPNs) -- enabling enterprises to build eminently scalable secure IP overlays, which paved the way for the SD-WAN market. 

Alkira can be seen as a natural extension of SD-WAN into the network backbone. While SD-WANs have become immensely popular tools for automating and managing secure connections from branch offices to data centers and cloud applications, they usually require an underlying network transport provided by a service provider, which must still be provisioned and managed in the core of the service-provider network.

Alkira's saying: Why not take the SD-WAN concept into the core of the network? The company does this by building out a global network of points of presence (PoPs) with its own hardware and routing technologies. Its enabling enterprises—or even service providers—to outsource their entire infrastructure. 

MCN and NaaS take off

This latest announcement will only add more momentum to an already red-hot MCN and NaaS market. Other pioneers, such PacketFabric and PurePort, are focusing on the NaaS space, which has heated up in recent months.

In fact, there is such an explosion of technology in this market that it's hard to outline in a single column, which is why Futuriom recently published a report profiling more than 20 companies with multi-cloud networking solutions in our recent Future of Multi-Cloud Networking report

But let me summarize how this is starting to unfold: The SD-WAN players are expanding their multi-cloud and backbone capabilities both internally and by partnering with MCN and NaaS vendors. For example, SD-WAN player Silver Peak has partnered with both Aviatrix and PurePort, among others. And SD-WAN players with their own POPs are expanding NaaS capabilities. For example, Cato Networks uses IP Transit and its own network of POPs to build a secure global overly. Aryaka is one of the few SD-WAN players that has its own network to provide SD-WAN as a managed service. 

Wait, there's more. There are startups such as Arrcus and DriveNets that are also focused on building scalable, cloud-based routing networks targeting webscale providers and service providers that want cloud-based routing infrastructure. Aviatrix is often mentioned as a competitor to Alkira, but is in fact more focused on managing network connectivity and provisioning security inside of public clouds. Volterra has a multi-cloud networking service mesh that focuses on cloud application performance. 

Get the picture? I expect that like Alkira, each of these companies will continue to fire off feature expansions and improved capabilities over time. There is a lot of innovation in this space, and it's going to be a boon for enterprise and service provider network managers. As this exciting explosion of cloud-native technologies come to the networking market, it's going to get easier than ever to build network connectivity.

If Alkira has its way, you'll be able to fire up a secure, global backbone as easily as you start a Zoom call. That's where the NaaS is taking us, and I think this speaks to important ways the global Internet will involve.

R. Scott Raynovich is the founder and chief analyst of Futuriom. For two decades, he has been covering a wide range of technology as an editor, analyst, and publisher. Most recently, he was VP of research at SDxCentral.com, which acquired his previous technology website, Rayno Report, in 2015. Prior to that, he was the editor in chief of Light Reading, where he worked for nine years. Raynovich has also served as investment editor at Red Herring, where he started the New York bureau and helped build the original Redherring.com website. He has won several industry awards, including an Editor & Publisher award for Best Business Blog, and his analysis has been featured by prominent media outlets including NPR, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and the San Jose Mercury News. He can be reached at [email protected]; follow him @rayno.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceTelecom staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceTelecom.