Built for the future

Built for the future

27 October 2020 | Natalie Bannerman

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Capacity’s Natalie Bannerman speaks to the CEO of Pluribus Networks, Kumar Srikantan, about how the company is future proofing and why its ahead of the curve.

It’s always a great feeling when we’re able to shine a light on some of the lesser known companies from within our space — Pluribus Networks, for some, is one such company.

Marking 10 years in the game this year, Pluribus resides at “the heart of the network infrastructure space”, according to its president and CEO, Kumar Srikantan.

“Think of us as a next generation software-defined network infrastructure provider that is purpose built for the new world,” he says.

Transitioning from what Srikantan describes as “a traditional, stodgy, improvised networking, enterprise data centre model of the 2000s” the company now thrives firmly in the world of the cloud. And it credits the change to two core principles.

Firstly, Srikantan says you’ve got to make physical networking infrastructure “much more efficient and more friendly to the cloud architectures”, similar to competitor Arista Networks. Second, he says you have a virtualisation architecture, akin to what VMWare offers, to make the consumption model of computing and storage and applications much more palatable and automated,” Srikantan adds.

Bringing these two architectures together into one unified software-defined platform is where Pluribus excels, “combining the best of the VMWare NSX server overlay virtualisation architecture with Arista-like open networking cloud architecture”.

In line with these core principles, the company’s cultural tenets “form an inherent philosophy that employees embrace and adopt” over at Pluribus, because “that’s just who we are”. These tenets include: innovate continuously, customers come first, do the impossible, exceed expectations, constant growth, measure effectiveness, active problem solving, think economically, celebrate success, and technology neutral.

All of this work positions Pluribus to capitalise on the next wave of technology innovation, most relevant of course is 5G which has created a new category of cloud evolution — the edge cloud — and with it a new class of services that are tied to the new generation of applications such as IoT, driverless cars, virtual reality, remote medicine, smart city robotics, and so on.

“All these applications need things like high availability, time synchronisation, low latency, security, at about 100x bandwidth,” explains Srikantan.

“Pluribus creates a distributed peer to peer architecture with a unique way to pool compute network and storage resources that are distributed geographically, all in micro cells or micro datacentres, and we can pool those resources, independent of network topology or location, and make it look like one big resource that can be virtualised, that can be segmented, that can be automated. You can do analytics, and build up insight.”

With customers of all types and sizes Pluribus covers an interesting cross section of the industry including media companies, service providers and a host of enterprises.

Speaking to Srikantan, he shares that for managed service providers and telecom network operators, the greatest needs they have are for automation and orchestration. “Because their number one problem happens to be people management”.

He goes on to share that these services are needed more by telcos and service providers than enterprises who do not yet have the same problem of operating at scale.

“I would say that the degree to which the automation through APIs and through sort of open architecture that is required in the telco space is probably an order of magnitude much deeper and higher than what you would see on the enterprise side. Because in enterprise, it’s not a global solution problem yet,” explains Srikantan.

Like much of the world, Pluribus has felt the impact of Covid-19 on its activities, requiring a new approach to business and operations — though not enough to hinder its performance.

“I would say that business has slowed down,” says Srikantan. “But we have not had material impact on our operating model and there’s a few reasons for it.”

The first is that Pluribus operates in the cloud. “Those buildouts have continued because communication and remote management orchestration is the foundation, with or without a pandemic,” he says.
Second, Srikantan says as the company is more European and South Asian-centric, many markets are now emerging from the pandemic and business is stabilising.

The third reason is because Pluribus’ technology enables its customers to “stitch their physical data centre elements together and operate in a way that they can remotely create new virtual network topologies and other use cases in their lab environments”, Srikantan adds.

Overall because these are secular growth trends, “we expect things to pick up probably next year”, he says.

Our next area of conversation was on was the topic of open source. Taking a glimpse at Pluribus’ existing stack, built on the Adaptive Cloud Fabric, it delivers an integrated, automated networking solution that delivers comparable capabilities to Arista’s EOS operating system combined with VMware’s and NSX virtualisation technology.

In Srikantan’s own words there is no way this could have been achieved alone, especially to this degree of maturity and carrier scale.

“We’re literally averaging about 100 heads and 100 people in engineering over the last few years,” he says.

“The industry momentum on open source is hugely beneficial because it opens up the ability for new innovators and new players to come in, and get what I call a leg up in terms of not having to reinvent some of the foundational wheels that you need to start any technology.”

Sharing what’s on the cards for 2021, Srikantan says that it ultimately boils down to three things for Pluribus: scale, interoperability and 400G capacity.

“As the 5G buildouts happen, we do see that customers will build more and more distributed networks that will scale widely. So, we need to scale our fabric architecture from say, 30 nodes (datacentre switches) to 64 or 128 nodes or larger.”

“We are on the journey of scaling into hundreds of nodes because as these data centres get distributed, we have the ability to deliver the same value proposition that we do at one node level across thousands of nodes.”

In support of this goal, earlier this year Pluribus confirmed the availability of release 6.0 of its Linux Netvisor ONE network operating system and release 6.0 of the Pluribus UNUM management and Insight Analytics platform.

They come in response to increasing customer demand for scalable data centre fabrics and Netvisor ONE 6.0 OS now supports multiple new spine and leaf/edge switches based on Broadcom’s Tomahawk 2 and Trident 3 switch series.

As for 400G connectivity, Srikantan says it is driven by the telco cloud, explaining that “the cost economics of bandwidth has become so compelling that it makes more sense for providers to adopt the next generation of bandwidth for the same cost.”

In addition to being able to quadruple bandwidth, Srikantan says 400G gives the added benefit of capex and opex, forming a great basis for 5G.

“The latencies also get better and [that] fits into the 5G transition very beautifully. So, we do see that as a key initiative,” he continues.

One such example of this distributed telco cloud architecture is the partnership formed between Pluribus and Trilogy Networks through which Pluribus has joined the Rural Cloud Initiative, a nationwide strategic alliance to accelerate digital transformation in the agricultural and energy industries in rural environments.

In turn, Trilogy will deploy the Pluribus Netvisor ONE and Adaptive Cloud Fabric software across its distributed cloud network platform, which will simplify network operations, reduce costs and deliver automation, security and visibility for Trilogy’s ConEx edge compute architecture.

On the last point of interoperability this need comes straight from the customers with Srikantan sharing that there are a growing number of use cases where customers want the Pluribus fabric to interoperate with, for example,

Cisco, Juniper, Arista or other third-party fabrics. “We want to be able to extend our fabric architecture in terms of more interoperability and openness with alternative architecture so that we can fit into any deployment,” he says.

Despite all these goals for 2021 the fundamentals for Pluribus are pretty much set in stone with no real change in foundational strategy. And it seems to be effective, in April of this year Pluribus was named one of the fastest growing companies in North and South America based on Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), according to a list compiled by the Financial Times and Statista.

“It’s working, and we are in the right spot,” says Srikantan. “We seem to have hit the sweet spot in terms of the technology architecture, and the capabilities that match the needs of the times.

“We are just going to do more of what we do and focus on these three areas.”