Hyper convergence in networking world is real: Michael Zhao, Array Networks

We are fast morphing into a network functions platforms company, says Michael Zhao, President & CEO of Array Networks.

NFV-evangelizer Array Networks claims to offer unique solutions that are flexible, cost-effective and scalable, with guaranteed performance. In an exclusive interview with CIO India during his recent India visit, Michael Zhao, President & CEO of Array Networks discusses the evolution curve of the enterprise IT world.

What changes do you see in the market—in the present and in the immediate future? 

We see the entire industry morphing as businesses have started transforming from the private cloud or the private data centres to the public data centres. But they soon realize that they have to keep something on premise and everything cannot be out in the public space. With certain critical information and certain mission critical applications, they need to ride the trend of hybrid cloud.

Hybrid Cloud demands flexibility and at the same time the organisations need guaranteed performance of these applications. It needs to be cost-efficient and it needs to be scalable. For a smaller environment of 50 or 100 virtual machines, things may seem fine; but with 2000 to 5000 machines, it becomes extremely complex and troublesome. To make it better for the CIOs and IT leaders, we are introducing a new unique solution that delivers the power of both – public cloud and the private cloud. The solutions offers flexibility, guaranteed performance, cost-effectiveness and scalability. 

Does that mean Array Networks is introducing cloud services for the end organisations? 

I'm talking about the benefits of the public cloud. We are not going to offer cloud services; but provide the solutions through enterprises, through government agencies, through the service providers. We are helping them to do a better job by leveraging our technology, and enjoy the benefits of the public cloud.

MichaelZhao_ArrayNetworks

Hybrid cloud is going to be THE solution. One stream is totally public, the other totally private. Neither will work; you've to take the middle path and strike the good balance depending on your business to divide your growth between the two.

Michael Zhao President & CEO,
Array Networks

The prime benefit of public cloud is availability on-demand. Companies want to try it out; but they don’t want to invest huge amounts. Today you need only one public cloud and tomorrow it might be two hence ‘pay as you grow’ model works with the public cloud. Everything is software-defined infra with enterprise-grade security. On the other hand, the big benefit of private cloud is guaranteed performance, SLA, and total control of the on –premise infra.
We are merging the benefits of both models together and offering the solution. We are fast morphing into a Network Functions Platforms Company and we definitely see 2018 as the year of Enterprise Network Functions Virtualization.

So you mentioned cloud, you mentioned security, then intelligence. What are your capacity building plans and the strategies around them? 

When we call it the platform ecosystem, we need partners from both sides. One is the application developers, who owns the applications. We have certain applications. We have load balancers; we have the best VPN of the world, and I'm really proud of it. But we have only a limited number of applications. Other technology providers have firewalls, web application firewalls (WAF), intrusion detection systems (IDS), intrusion prevention systems (IPS) and the list is very long and hence we have to partner with them.

When a customer asks us for disaster recovery solution or they need security to protect the digital campus, or let’s say they want protection for their web resources. We cater to their needs as they can run next-gen firewalls (NGFW), they can run web application firewalls (WAF), on Array Networks’ platform. Those applications are not by Array; but we are partnering with others. They know their applications; they know the customer needs; together we can serve the customer better. That's how we see it.

There’s lot of competition into the technology domain or areas you specialise in and the new ones you intent to get into in due course. How do you plan to stand out in the game? 

Competition is a good thing. We believe in our core competencies. I call that ‘the unfair advantage’—the things that we know and the other people do not know, or they need time to catch up.

Number one USP is the capability to process packets in applications. Over the years we've learned to optimize the stack in such a way that we do it super-efficient. We could leverage that. Another thing is the docket ability of the SSL processing and we have been leading that space.
So, the platform I talked about is a product that has virtualization, fast packet processing, and a guaranteed SSL capability. Any networking application needs packet process. Any security application needs SSL. For any applications, you need processing power. For us processing power is guaranteed, which is different from any other virtualization solution in the market.

If you talk about the virtualized server, we share all the resources. And we compete against each other and that is the uniqueness of our technology. And I believe, this uniqueness will give us advantage in the market.

We are working on several major partnerships to play a big role in the overall ecosystem, because, we are changing from a point solution company into a point product company and now into a platform company.

Michael Zhao’s five tech bets

1. Software-defined

2. Hybrid cloud

3. Security

4. IoT

5. Hyperconvergence

See Zhao’s plans for the Array Networks partner ecosystem in India, and how he plans to tackle the multi-vendor space

What would be Michael’s piece of advice to CIOs, CTOs, tech leaders’ community in today’s hyper connected world? 

Number one, keep your minds open, because the world is changing too fast. You cannot frame yourself with any technology; cannot lock-in with anybody, even though they are the best in the world. 

Secondly, hybrid cloud is going to be the solution. One stream is totally public, the other totally private. Neither will work; you've to take the middle path and strike the good balance depending on your business to divide your growth between the two.

And number three, is definitely ‘software-defined’. The world is changing into software-defined everything. If they continue to go with the old hardware approach, the investment may be wasted quickly down the road.

Hyperconvergence is a big technology trend for 2018. Your views? 

Besides the mega trends we see emerge strong in 2018—Software-defined, Hybrid cloud, Security, IoT— we see Hyperconvergence to be a key trend too. 

The hyper convergent networking device with the load balancers, switching, security…everything, and you've the hyper convergence of computing and storage; and that has become a datacentre. Artificial intelligence drives the need for the modular datacentre.

Think of a robot surgeon working on a heart surgery of a patient. Do you have the time to send the data to the cloud and wait to get it processed? It has to be right there. Latency will kill the patient. The demand for strong edge-computing drives the need for hyper convergence. It has two towers—computing and storage is one, and networking is the other. We play in that networking space which is our forte.

“The demand for hyperconvergence in networking is going to be very strong. And in a way we are lucky we are right at the center of it.”

The most expensive piece of datacenter transformation is the rack space. If companies can consolidate 32 load balancers into one, or 16 firewalls into one, that brings tremendous benefits to the operator. That's one—consolidation. The second aspect is the drastic reduction in cooling and power consumption costs. That is why convergence is so powerful. If you can compress them into one, instead of 32 units of power supplies you can have just one or two. The demand for hyper convergence in networking is going to be very strong. And in a way we are lucky we are right at the center of it.

What is special about high growth countries like India and China? Have they always been a key market for Array Networks? 

We started China operations five years before India and we find the two markets to be very similar. We think, by providing the solutions we offer, we can help the enterprises here—the financial services companies, the government, and more—to generate more revenue, and to improve efficiency. 

India is a strategic market for us as we believe that India is going to be an economic powerhouse of the world. We are committed to this market and we believe we can help our customers here. As of now we have around 15% of our business coming out of India. And I believe India to take up a quarter of our total business five years down the road, or shorter than that.
Financial services is a great customer sector for us not only in India; but in all parts of the world. Because, we are strong in guaranteeing the security of customer data which is most sought after in financial services, and healthcare. In the U.S. the law requires all data to be secure because of the HIPA (Health Information Protection Act). We are looking into the same level of information protection for the financial sector and the government.

Most of the spending comes from the government. Digital India initiative and the smart cities approach in India is similar to what I saw in China. Down the road, I see more opportunities in transportation overhaul with more highways, more interstate high-speed roads, and more modern airports coming up in India. When people become richer, they tend to travel more. So transportation is another sector we are really interested.

With the make-in-India drive, we can help the manufacturing sector to leverage the momentum of AI and Industry 4.0 to improve their efficiency and become more competitive. Because, only by improving technology can they become competitive. Otherwise the advantage of cheap labour will not last too long. We've known that in China and other parts of the world.