As 2018 comes to an end, I’d like to reflect back at the past 12 months and review last year’s predictions, as well as think about how 2019 will guide us.
A Retrospective Look at 2018
2018 was a significant year for Apstra. We grew our team size by 33 percent and our revenue and customers many-fold. We have a handful of Fortune 50 customers that run the Apstra Operating System (AOS®) in their production environments today. One customer has standardized on AOS across their entire infrastructure.
As our team gets bigger, our company matures. Evidence of this is our recent executive team expansion — this year we welcomed Manish Sampat as our VP Engineering and Mike Wood as our CMO and VP Product.
I’m also proud to share that Apstra has won the Best of VMworld award for Networking, and this year we became official partners with Dell EMC and VMware.
We also moved to our new beautiful headquarters in Menlo Park, CA where we have the space to accommodate our expected fast growth.
Last but not least, we have continued to deliver game changing innovations to the industry, including:
Full device OS management across multiple vendors
Root Cause Identification
Full automation of business logic workflows
With these innovations, we are moving quickly from Level 2 Intent-Based Networking to Level 3, according to the Intent-Based Networking Taxonomy, and are closer than ever to delivering on our vision of a Self-Operating Network.
Stepping Back in Time: Recapping 2018 predictions
In my 2017 holiday blog last year, I made a few predictions. Let’s take a few minutes to go back in time and check in on those predictions to see if they were indeed realized!
Prediction 1: Acceleration of Digital Transformation: TRUE
In my 2017 blog, I predicted: “Due to the urgent need to digitize their business, enterprises are embarking on an accelerated schedule to upgrade their infrastructures. More than ever before, it is no longer an option to do nothing or to continue to have your hardware vendors hold you back.”
This prediction indeed turned out to be true. In IDC’s “Worldwide Datacenter Software-Defined Networking Forecast, 2018–2022,” Brad Casemore states: “Datacenter modernization, driven by the relentless pursuit of digital transformation and characterized by the adoption of cloud-like infrastructure, will help to maintain growth, as well as provide opportunities to extend datacenter SDN overlays and fabrics to multi-cloud application environments.“
Let’s consider the disruption that’s happening in the data center space. We have seen many disruptive innovations introduced to the market: VMware’s Dimension project, the AWS-VMware collaboration, culminating in the AWS Outposts announcement; NSX-T, Cisco’s full embrace of Intent-Based Networking, including their new Network Verification products. We at Apstra delivered our share of mega innovations in 2018: fully automated multi-vendor EVPN, Intent-Based Analytics with Root Cause Identification, full automation of business logic workflows.
With such disruption, one thing is clear: it is no longer feasible to do nothing and to settle with manual operations. Also, it is clear that vendor lock-in is no longer acceptable. In fact, one of our customers has a combination of bare metal servers, VMware hypervisors, Azure stack racks, and an AWS cloud deployment. “Doing nothing” was certainly not an option — and Apstra is the only solution that provides the multi-vendor automation that met their needs.
Prediction 2: Accelerated Decrease in the Hardware Depreciation Cycle: TRUE
According to the Gartner Networking 2018 Magic Quadrant, “the spine-and-leaf (folded Clos) topology is the most common physical network design, proposed by most vendors. It has replaced the historical three-tier design (access, aggregation, core).”
Let’s compare this recent observation to their strategic planning assumption in their 2016 “Innovation Insight for Ethernet Switching Fabric,” which states, “By 2019, more than 30% of the Ethernet switching networks installed in enterprise data centers will be modernized with Ethernet fabric architectures, up from less than 10% today.”
It is clear by comparing the 2016 prediction to their 2018 observation that leaf/spine deployments have accelerated a lot faster than expected, which means that hardware depreciation cycles have been reduced in proportion.
What’s driving this acceleration? Again quoting the Gartner Networking 2018 Magic Quadrant, “enterprises need better automation, orchestration, and integration with the rest of the data center integration (storage, compute, cloud management, container management and infrastructure automation.” The conclusion is clear: automation is in part responsible for accelerating the hardware depreciation cycle.
Our friends at Mellanox also share some consistent interesting market data on leaf-spine networks, in their blog post: “Why Leaf/Spine Networks are Taking Off.”
Prediction 3: Simplicity of Operation and Hardware Commoditization: TRUE
Simplicity of operation was indeed a major theme for 2018. According to the Gartner report quoted in the previous section, simplicity of operations is listed as a key reason for the fast transition to leaf/spine networks: “Ethernet fabrics provide a simplified way to manage multiple switches as a single construct”, and this simplification is delivered through automation “The percentage of manual data center networking operational activities will fall below 50% by 2021, down from 80% today.”
The importance of providing simplicity of operation through powerful automation is no surprise to our customers. One of our system integrators demonstrated that AOS simplicity resulted in an 83 percent reduction in man-hours involved in operating a data center, which I discuss in a recent Networking Field Day 19 presentation!
No wonder analysts have been loudly recommending that customers automate aggressively! Quoting the same IDC report reference above, a key recommendation to vendors was to “Make SDN offerings simpler to procure, provision, deploy, manage, and operate.” The report goes on to state: “The problem with complexity, of course, is that it is a mortal enemy of agility.” And a key Cisco message for 2019 has been “Simplicity without Compromise,” as it relates to their Intent-Based Networking campaign.
Another study performed by one of our customers shows that with AOS, a task that took one week now takes two hours! Indeed, complexity is the mortal enemy of agility.
As for hardware commoditization, while progress has been slow, it’s happening gradually — we have gathered a few proof points in 2018 that demonstrate this trend. Along with AWNIX and Dell EMC, we have deployed a public cloud that delivers a service to a Tier 1 Service Provider. This public cloud infrastructure is based on Dell EMC switches and the open source OPX switch operating system.
We have also partnered with Microsoft to deliver an enterprise-class version of the SONiC operating system to the market, which GA’ed in December 2018.
Last but not least, there was no shortage of public reports about top service providers such as AT&T deploying white box switches in production.
Now, let’s take a look into my crystal ball and jump to 2019.
Top Three 2019 Technology Predictions
Prediction 1: First Deployment of a Self-Operating Network
In 2019, we will see the deployment of a first full Level 3 Intent-Based Network, aka Self-Operating Network. In 2018, Apstra built all the prerequisite components to accomplish this – including Intent-Based Analytics, Root Cause Identification, and a fully extensible platform with customizable APIs that allow customers to program business logic including self-healing functions. In 2019, we expect that we’re going to see a first production deployment of an infrastructure that has all these functions integrated to deliver on a self-operating network.
Prediction 2: First SONiC Enterprise Deployment
In 2019, we will see the deployment of a first instance of SONiC by an enterprise customer. While SONiC has limited functionality today, it primarily works well in specific scenarios (e.g. a spine switch, as part of a Layer 3 spine-leaf deployment). In the AOS 2.3 release, via a partnership with Microsoft, Apstra now provides GA support for SONiC for those use cases, enabling SONiC to be used and fully supported by Apstra. We expect some enterprise customers will take advantage of this capability to optimize their CapEx spend.
Prediction 3: Choice of Intent-Based Solution will Precede Choice of Hardware
Typically, and since the dawn of time, network infrastructure teams chose the hardware and switch Operating System (OS) first, then designed their infrastructure, including how their infrastructure was built around this choice. This meant that on their own, customers have had to qualify various switch hardwares and operating systems, which took months, thousands of man hours, and hundreds of thousands of dollars per switch hardware and switch operating system! This is a prime example of hardware vendor lock-in, and suboptimal manual operational processes.
In fact, we have been engaged with a financial institution that has delayed their critical automation initiative because they have been spending months qualifying a new version of a switch operating system version. Sound familiar?
As part of the Apstra AOS solution, and along with our partners, Apstra runs tens of thousands of continuous tests, across all switch operating system versions that are on the Apstra compatibility list. Apstra stands behind those choices in the context of the Apstra AOS use cases, and is the single throat to choke across the various switch operating systems. This is game changing, and means that customers no longer have to spend millions of dollars qualifying hardware and software switch operating systems!
We expect that in 2019, we will see an increasing number of organizations choose their Intent-Based solution first, and then adopt those hardware and switch operating system platforms that are supported by their Intent-Based Networking solution. In the case of Apstra, we support Cisco NX-OS, Arista EOS, Juniper Junos OS and Cumulus across various hardware (e.g. Edgecore, Dell EMC — and now Lenovo — which is the beauty of disaggregation)! We also support OPX with Dell EMC, and SONiC across various hardware platforms. That’s plenty of choice for our customers, enabled by the power of the Intent-Based automation and abstractions.
To our customers and partners, we’d like to say thank you for your trust, support, and continued partnership. To our friends and fans, we’d like to thank you for cheering us on, and for your ongoing support. On behalf of all Apstrktrs, I’d like to wish you a great holiday season, and wish you and your families the very best for 2019.