NetElastic Playing With the Big Boys
NetElastic, a two-year-old startup focused on carrier NFV, says it will land a major telecom operator deal this year, and is working with several large telecom companies already.
Such a move would be a major sign of market acceptance for the software company which came out of the gate promising greater flexibility and scalability with a network functions virtualization software play aimed solely at the carrier market. It would also be an indication that network operators, frustrated by the pace at which legacy vendors are evolving, are willing to go with newer players.
The only announced user to date, CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), admitted in a press release that it conducted lab trials of the NetElastic Systems Inc. software, but declined to go any further than that, in response to email questions from Light Reading. In that release, Bill Walker, director of Network Architecture and Innovation, called the NetElastic trial performance "impressive" and said CenturyLink is looking forward to further product evaluation.
David Williams, NetElastic's senior vice president of sales and marketing, says the company is working with "a lot of large carriers" in the US and globally, but recognizes their sales cycles can be long and so is also looking to smaller operator deals, likely to happen this year as well. Those operators are less concerned with virtualization as a trend and more interested in expanding their network and service capabilities in the most cost-effective way, something other technology companies are finding as well. (See Inocybe, Cablevision Argentina Virtualize CDN.)
NetElastic announced general availability of its major products in late March, including software for software-defined network and virtual CPE, a virtual Broadband Network Gateway and a virtual router, and what it says is the industry's first virtual MPLS Provider Edge router (vPE) at scale.
Scale and performance are the company's prime selling points, Williams says, along with the flexibility to deploy NetElastic software wherever it's needed, in standard servers, switches or routers.
"What we heard from carriers we talked to and some that found us was that they had tried other solutions and they are just not scaling," Williams says. Because NetElastic doesn't have its own hardware solution, it sought to solve that problem from the outset using commercial off-the-shelf hardware instead of expecting network operators to move to a legacy hardware solution for performance and scalability, as some legacy vendors do, he says.
To that end, Williams says NetElastic software runs on COTS hardware including x86 servers with Intel 10-gig network interface cards and is also "working to be able to move the data plane to white box SDN switches for more port density. Today, we can do 160 gigabits on a 2U server, which we haven't seen from anyone else."
What that allows network operators to do is size their initial deployments in a cost-effective way for the existing market, knowing they can scale up as needed later.
"For infrastructure products -- the BNG, vPE and router -- that scalability is important from day one, particularly for larger carriers," he says. "They may have a new market where a smaller solution may be adequate, but they like the idea that as the market grows, they can add capability by adding additional cards. They don't have to do a forklift upgrade and they don't have to buy a platform that is overkill for that market, so it saves them money."
NetElastic has a different competitive proposition in the hot-if-overcrowded SD-WAN field. Its SD-WAN solution was also built from the ground up as a carrier play -- not an enterprise box -- and Williams claims it fits more easily into the carrier core because the SD-WAN gateways or hubs can slide right into an existing MPLS network and support branch SD-WAN customers as either over-the-top or native MPLS connections.
"That lets carriers serve on-net and off-net customers and have them all in one comprehensive private secure enterprise WAN, with a lot less equipment, which saves them money," Williams says.
The software player has its own orchestration layer that supports workflow and automation and provides REST application programming interfaces into a carrier's legacy operations and business support systems or master orchestrator. "Our orchestration can be completely hidden or we do have a [user interface] if they want more granular access," he says. "We also support Netconf directly into the NFV components so they can interoperate there."
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading