Industry Voices—Raynovich: Startup Alkira’s Khan brothers tap multi-cloud magic

Amir Khan and Atif Khan look to shake-up multi-cloud networking with their new company, Alkira. (Pixabay)

The Khan brothers are back in action. Alkira is the company, and multi-cloud networking is the game. 

This will be fun to watch.

Amir Khan and Atif Khan are legendary engineering siblings best known for their success in growing Juniper's enterprise switching market as well as the success of software-defined startup Viptela, which was acquired by Cisco in 2017 for $610 million. Today the Khan brothers unveiled the product they've been building inside of Alkira for two years: A fully virtualized multi-cloud networking solution. 

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Amir Khan is Co-Founder and CEO of Alkira and Atif Khan is the Co-Founder and CTO. The name of the product is Alkira Cloud Services Exchange (CSX.) The company is claiming it's the first to deliver one-click provisioning of a global multi-cloud network with integrated services. If I were either large networking original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or a service provider—I'd be scared. CSX enables network architects to build a global virtualized network in minutes using simple cloud tools and leveraging existing cloud infrastructure. The customer doesn't even have to own hardware or a network. 

The demo I saw is impressive. Basically a sad, non-technical industry analyst like myself could build a global network with a simple point-and-click interface. Connect Azure to AWS? No problem. But what's it mean? It shows that the power of the cloud is about to change the competitive landscape for providing transport and networking infrastructure— forever. 

Leveraging the power of the cloud 

Alkira leverages cloud points-of-presence (POPs) and colocation facilities, which are fueling the next phase of cloud growth. All of the major cloud services and Internet exchanges points (IXPs) set up peering points at major cloud POPs around the world. The peering points have become a valuable resource within themselves. At the same time, major cloud providers are building their own networks. Customers can now leverage the major cloud provider networks by connecting at the POPs. 

Here's where multi-cloud networking software like Alkira's comes in. Multi-cloud networking means that software can leverage application programming interfaces (APIs) at the cloud POPs to set up, provision and activate cloud networks. 

In the case of Alkira, the company says it can provision a global multi-cloud network in minutes. Amir Khan believes that cloud infrastructure is the new network. 

"Cloud providers are investing more into their network than anybody else right now. Pure capacity from compute, storage and networking," Khan told me in a recent interview. "It will be challenging for the service providers to keep pace with that, unless they become more relevant to putting more intelligence services on top. That's why we decided to be in the cloud because pure bandwidth is more available in the cloud."

Alkira is part of a new crop of startups emerging with tools that make it easier for enterprise IT specialists to build their own networks using existing cloud infrastructure. Some of these companies include Aviatrix, Megaport, PacketFabric, and Pureport. Each of these companies solves different aspects of the problems. The vendors are likely to jump on the story to profess dominance, but this market does not seem unusually crowded and there is room for all of these players. Alkira's entrance is likely to add to the excitement. 

Multi-cloud routing pedigree

Alkira will shake things up with the debut of CSX. It launches with the capability to build resilient network connectivity from on premises sites to the major clouds including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft Azure. Users can build cloud-to-cloud connectivity within and across regions. The company says that one unnamed customer used CSX to build a network for $2.4 million using cloud infrastructure that would have cost $4.7 million to build from scratch.

Additional features of CSX include security, global load balancing and IP address management. It also includes an operations suite that features a unified visibility dashboard and detailed billing tools to analyze network usage. 

The closest competitor that Alkira will be compared with will probably be Aviatrix, which has been in the game a little longer and has already developed a solid customer base. Aviatrix has announced some big name customers such as United, FICO and IHG that are using it to help connect multi-cloud networks. 

Judging from the early positioning, Alkira might be targeted at larger companies focused on building a global transport networks, while Aviatrix is solving more tactical challenges in connecting and monitoring applications and network segments inside of public cloud services. But it's hard to know yet, without seeing Alkira's full customer roster. 

Understanding the founders, Alkira's secret sauce is likely to reside in its routing algorithms for which the Khan brothers are famous. Imagine Alkira as a giant virtual router in the cloud. 

RELATED: Industry Voices—Raynovich: SDN and NFV aren’t dead; they became SD-WAN

At Viptela, the engineering team solved the complicated management of virtual private networks (VPNs) at scale, which was a key early innovation in the SD-WAN, market by abstracting out the complexity and automating the creation of large numbers of VPNs in corporate networks. 

"We needed to create a fabric across multiple types of transport that is ubiquitous and allowed you to seamlessly integrate that into the campus and branches," as Khan described the Viptela solution to me in a recent interview. "It was a beautiful solution."

Viptela is still going strong as Cisco's SD-WAN play, but the Khan brothers are believed to have left shortly after the acquisition. (They won't comment publicly on their careers at Cisco.)

Meanwhile, Alkira is officially one of Silicon Valley's shiny new objects with a top pedigree. The company has raised $30 million to date from Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia Capital, and GV (formerly Google Ventures). Sequoia also invested in Viptela, which was founded and helmed by Amir Khan. 

Alkira's product looks to be a game-changer that will raise the profile of multi-cloud networking as a whole. It shows virtualization can be applied to just about any problem, including provisioning global transport networks. 

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.

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