Industry Voices—Raynovich: Arrcus gets edgy with distributed, multi-cloud routing

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Venture-backed startup Arrcus is crashing the edge routing and multi-cloud networking markets at the same time with several new product releases. (Pixabay)

Venture-backed startup Arrcus is storming the edge routing and multi-cloud networking markets at the same time—unveiling a cluster of new capabilities enabled by its ArcOS networking operating system (NOS).

On Wednesday, Arrcus announced its Virtualized Distributed Routing (VDR) and the Multi-Cloud Networking (MCN) solutions designed to help service providers and enterprises build high-performance networks that can connect to any cloud or network. The VDR and MCN solutions both use Arrcus’ distributed routing technology that can run on standardized hardware built on merchant silicon.

What’s interesting is that even though the products are being launched separately, they have the same underlying technology—distributed routing. Arrcus, which was one of FierceTelecom's top-12 telecom disrupters last year, has built a distributed, cloud-controlled NOS that can solve several edge networking and multi-cloud challenges at once. By focusing on open, standardized hardware and merchant silicon, the company says it can provide massive scale at lower cost. 

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Some long-time watchers of software-defined networking (SDN) markets may be rolling their eyes at the Arrcus play—another NOS!—but let me tell you why it’s different. As 5G and private wireless networks come to market, they will create unprecedented need for scale and performance in networking solutions at any cloud location, whether its the edge, cloud point of presence (POP), or data center. The timing is right for a cloud-focused, distributed NOS. The era of big iron may be starting to give way to the distributed network. If Arrcus delivers as promised, it has built a more scalable, routing based NOS equipped for the emerging multi-cloud world.

Power shift in distributed networking

There’s a new focus on networking among clouds because the worry is that networks could become the bottleneck to multi-cloud and hybrid applications. This is creating big shifts in the networking space, which is heating up with activity in cloud networking.

For example, Nokia recently announced a new NOS – the Nokia Service Router Linux NOS and Fabric Services Platform (FSP) toolkit, just two weeks ago. And the pursuit of cloud-based networking has prompted major moves by cloud providers. For example Microsoft in recent months has bought both Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch, providers of virtualized networking solutions targeted at the edge and 5G networks. Chip company Nvidia recently purchased both network onterface cards (NIC) vendor Mellanox Technologies and NOS vendor Cumulus Networks, showing it wants to build powerful networking solutions.

Why is this happening? It’s because the needs are shifting. Networks will need to support dynamic and scalable cloud-based services, so they need to be more nimble, scalable, controlled and configured from the cloud.

VDR: Massive Distributed Routing for the Edge

Arrcus is putting itself on the map by attacking two markets at once. With the VDR, it’s going after incumbents in data-center switching and edge routing, which includes Arista Networks, Cisco, Juniper Networks, and Nokia – which also recently announced a NOS targeting data-center markets. Arrcus is also likely to be compared with cloud routing startup DriveNets. With MCN, Arrcus will likely be competing with multi-cloud networking players such as Aviatrix and Alkira, although all of these companies have a slightly different focus.

With VDR, Arrcus is claiming a first —a fully distributed routing platform that can scale up 7,680 ports of 100G (offering 768 terabits of performance), making it the highest capacity router available in the market. The VDR runs on standard, x86 servers incorporating Broadcom’s high-speed, high-density Jericho2 and Ramon-based silicon that can support networking in leafs (40 x 100 gigabit network interfaces and a 13x400G fabric) or spines (up to 48 ports of 400G) platforms.

The important thing is that the VDR doesn’t have to be built in a single routing chassis—it can happen as a distributed IP Clos that is controlled with a separate containerized software, scale-out control plane.

A massively distributed routing platform has interesting applications, ranging from edge clouds built to support 5G connectivity to large multi-cloud networks.

The other important thing to keep in mind is that unlike some of the successful so-called SDN technologies from the past— such as VMware’s NSX software-based overlay—Arrcus is a routing-based NOS that can fully control and configure networking devices, known as “underlay.”

One of the things that makes Arrcus different—and potentially more threatening to incumbent networking vendors —is that it has chosen to take a more comprehensive path at engineering routing in the cloud, targeting Layer 3 routing and underlay.

Layer 3 is important because routing protocols still represent the most technically challenging aspect of integrating a wide variety of networks that are colliding at the service provider edge and cloud POPs. Inside a data center, Layer 2 switching and higher-level "overlay" networks using software can suffice. But for traffic exiting the data center to another network, it needs high-performance routing.

Targeting multi-cloud as well

Arrcus also announced the MCN platform, which consists of ArcEdge, a secure data plane element, and ArcOrchestrator, which coordinates cloud connectivity. MCN helps enterprises or service providers build cloud-based MCN networks either in a hub-spoke, mesh, or hybrid topology and can scale to thousands of nodes.

Some of the unique features that Arrcus is touting in MCN include built-in AES-256 encryption for all traffic, cloud-native integration with Amazon Web Serivices (AWS) and Microsoft Azure security groups, and service-provider scale border gateway protocol (BGP) routing. Arrcus MCN also supports popular automation tools such as Terraforma, Ansible frameworks and YANG.

One of the keys to Arrcus for both VDR and MCN is that its NOS handles advanced emerging routing technologies, including segment routing (SRv6 and SR-MPLS), and traffic engineering (SR-TE), which will be key to building high-performance multi-cloud routing services that aren’t simply overlay networks.

Can they pull it off? The company has an experienced team. CEO and Co-Founder Devesh Garg was among the first 50 or so employees at Broadcom and recently served as president of EZchip, which was sold to Mellanox in 2015 for $811 million (Mellanox was more recently sold to Nvidia).

Arrcus Co-founder and CTO Keyur Patel was a distinguished engineer at Cisco and a pioneer in many routing protocols and virtual private networking (VPN) technologies including BGP, Layer 3 VPNs, and Layer 2 VPNs. He holds more than 54 patents in routing technology. Co-founder and Chief Architect Derek Yeung is another former Cisco engineer.

Arrcus has raised $50 million and is backed by a list of VCs with lots of experience in networking, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Clear Ventures, and General Catalyst. Its of board of directors includes Garg, Patel; Guru Chahal, Partner at Lightspeed; Steve Herrod, Managing Director at General Catalyst; and Chris Rust, founder and General Partner at Clear Ventures.

The new product launches from Arrcus will be fun to watch, because they are the first of a new generation of cloud-focused networking technologies that meld both advanced multi-cloud routing with data-center capabilities at once.  

(Disclosure: As an analyst, I accept research work from vendor clients, including Arrcus. Futuriom is currently working on two large surveys of service provider and enterprise networking needs in the 5G edge and MCN markets, underwritten by Arrcus).

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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