Startup Forward Networks helps search, protect and predict network behavior

Founding team helped develop Software Defined Networking at Stanford

forward networks map
Credit: Forward Networks

A team founded by PhD researchers who studied some of the first instantiations of software defined networking at Stanford University have a new startup named Forward Networks that help users understand network behavior while protecting and predicting how changes will impact the system.

The key to Forward Networks' technology is an algorithm developed at Stanford that allows a software copy of a network to be created. Using this copy, users can run tests on it before implementing changes into production and identify the cause of a problem when something is wrong, says CEO David Erickson.

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david erickson Forward Networks

Forward Networks CEO David Erickson and three other co-founders all received their PhDs from Stanford University while researching networking.

Erickson, along with three other co-founders (Brandon Heller, Peyman Kazemian and Nikhil Handigol) all received PhDs from Stanford in computer science or electrical engineering. The company, founded in 2013, has raised $11.5 million from Andreessen Horowitz, SV Angel and A Capital. 

Forward Networks’ product has drivers that use a standard CLI command to collect information about networks it is monitoring. The platform works in a traditional or software-defined network and is compatible with most major networking hardware. Future iterations of the product could allow it to analyze public cloud based networks, Erickson said. Forward Networks creates a precise software model of the network, including every potential traffic flow of packets within it. The product is made of three applications that use this copy of the network for various functions:

-Forward Search: Erickson describes it as a “Google search for your network.” It creates an inventory of all possible routes that traffic can take in the network. Previously this would be done through a cumbersome manual process of mapping packet flows or using a ping and trace routes. Forward Search allows users to precisely examine how traffic is flowing within their network between any two points.

-Forward Verify: This application explores whether the network is doing what it is supposed to be doing. It can test policies, such as isolation zones, which applications communicate with one another and even lower-level network “hygiene” policies related to optimized traffic flows.

-Forward Predict: This feature lets network engineers test a change they want to implement in their network in this software copy of the network before it is rolled into the production environment.

Forward Networks’ product comes as a SaaS-based offering in which all of the data about the network is sent to the cloud for analysis, or as a virtual machine-based, behind-the-firewall software application. The company is emerging from stealth mode today and its product is immediately available. The company would not share pricing information, but it is a licensed subscription model with a consumption metric based on the number of devices monitored per year.

Forward says it already has customers in financial services, telecommunications and IT. “The Forward Network Platform enables us to better understand the end-to-end behavior of our data center networks, resolve issues faster, and proactively prevent network events,” Barry Sheils, vice president of Global Network Services, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, stated in a press release. “The results are improved agility, increased productivity and reduced network incidents.”

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