Can Alkira Pull off CAN?


By: R. Scott Raynovich

Alkira has come out with a new marketing strategy designed to describe the evolution of multicloud networking (MCN), a growing marketing category that Futuriom has been on top of with our popular Multicloud Networking report.

Alkira believes the MCN world has been defined too broadly and is now defining a category it calls cloud area networking (CAN). It's a play to create a new networking segment following successful categories such as software defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) and secure access service edge (SASE).

Alkira describes its CAN solution as a “full stack, edge-to-cloud enterprise-grade network with built-in routing and network services.” It also says that it’s the “only network 100% built in the cloud, delivered as a service, with no hardware to buy or agents to install.”

Alkira was founded by the well-known Khan brothers, Amir and Atif Khan, who are famous in networking circles for their work at Viptela (acquired by Cisco) and Juniper Networks. Alkira has named Warner Music Group, Koch Industries, and Tekion as its flagship customers, with more behind the curtain. Koch is also an investor in the company. Alkira most recently raised $54 million in a Series B round in 2020. Its key competitors in MCN and cloud networking, as covered by Futuriom, include companies such as Arrcus, Aviatrix, DriveNets, and VMware.

Datoo Dials into the Cloud

So what's new about CAN? Ahmed Datoo, who was brought in as Alkira's new chief marketing officer in May, says the distinguishing factor of CAN is that it builds cloud networking across the various "silos" -- branch-to-cloud networking, datacenter networking, and public cloud networking. In a conversation with Futuriom this week, he had some good points as to why they’d launch a new category of networking software.

So far, the cloud networking approach has been siloed, in Datoo’s view. For example, there is edge-to-cloud (SD-WAN), there is datacenter networking with software defined networking (SDN), and there is cloud networking (networking functions inside of a public cloud). Customers need a way to create an end-to-end cloud network that delivers full visibility of all the cloud networking elements.

"What is the value? Invariably it came down to the three silos -- providing an end-to-end view and end-to-end visibility across these silos. No toggling from on-prem to public-cloud provider tools," said Datoo.

In other words, CAN means creation, management, and operation of a network that can connect from a branch office all the way to deep inside a public-cloud provider's cloud, which can be an opaque place.

According to Alkira, the full capabilities of its CAN platform now include:

  • Traceroute, packet capture, flow capture, and policy inspections from any on-prem network to any cloud network
  • Enhanced segmentation and micro-segmentation that provide greater compliance across the entire network
  • Automated network address translation that makes it easy to remediate overlapping IP addresses across the Cloud Area Network
  • Easy connection of partners to the CAN with secure resource sharing
  • One-click high availability and disaster recovery setup for critical connections
  • Rapid network service insertion, including enhanced WAF/DDoS protection for Internet-facing applications

The company also recently introduced secure remote connection technology with SecureConnect, which allows users to securely access anything connected to its CAN.

So What Does It Really Mean?

So now, what you did or didn't ask for … the analyst's opinion. Creating a market category is popular marketing technique, one that Datoo says he accomplished successfully with mobile device management, a concept he pushed while at Citrix and Zenprise.

Can CAN become the new au courant acronym? Will there be a Gartner magic quadrant? On the latter goods, Gartner is still trying to work through multicloud networking software (MCNS), where it has established a new market guide, which is usually a precursor to a quadrant -- so it looks like CAN isn't yet on the Gartner radar.

Whether CAN can gain steam in the industry will come down to the marketing and SEO goods and how many industry pundits jump on the bandwagon. You’ll need at least a few other vendors and some more analysts to pump it up. At this point, I’m agnostic until I see more traction.

Futuriom has so far defined the market as Multicloud Networking (MCN), of which there are other entrants tackling the same problem. Aviatrix, for example, was early in the market in identifying the challenge of connecting enterprise networks to the inside-the-cloud constructs (cloud networking in the CAN silo model) -- and managing them as one network. Other companies are tackling the MCN problem as a software-based distributed routing problem – such as DriveNets and Arrcus. VMware is coming at the problem by connecting all the products it has in each silo -- for example VeloCloud in SD-WAN and NSX in datacenter and cloud.

So, while it’s true that end-to-end networking visibility is a growing challenge in MCN, it’s not true that Alkira is the only company thinking about this. Aviatrix features end-to-end visibility in its network, while companies such as Arrcus and DriveNets emphasize that they have a full cloud-native platform than can connect clouds (but perhaps need more work on connecting specific pieces of networks inside of public cloud).

But it's also a bit of a reach that you need one product to do this. Some of the MCN products are targeted at specific markets -- such as service provider cloud, or webscale enterprise. Some customers with whom we have spoken are looking at combining tools in a best-of-breed strategy to establish the same goal -- gaining edge-to-cloud visibility. With standardized cloud tools on the rise, it's possible that a common set of tools will emerge for doing this.

In Alkira's favor, the market is very young and as of right now, there's just not many people in the market. For example, once SD-WAN gained momentum about 6-7 years ago, by some estimates there were more than 50 SD-WAN vendors. So talking up CAN at this early stage is a good marketing play to establish credentials and unique functionality. Check back in a couple years to look for a CAN magic quadrant near you.

In the meantime, the differentiator for MCN and/or CAN vendors will come down to how well they adapt existing traditional infrastructure to multicloud and cloud-based security features. It may first come down to practical use cases that are already defined: Such as managing firewalls inside of a public cloud, managing IP-address configurations, and delivering better scale as networking software rather than a kludgy assembly of boxes.

Give credit to Alkira for pushing the discussion forward, but there is a lot more work to do to convince massive amounts of organizations to adopt a cloud-only networking model.