A conversation with Kelly Wanser, CEO of Stateless Networks

Making changes easier for customers.

I had the chance to meet with Kelly Wanser, CEO of Stateless Networks, at Interop in Las Vegas, and I thought her company would be a great fit for our CEO interview series. So we chatted with Kelly about her company.

kely wanser

1. Let's start out and you can tell us about your company and what you do.

Stateless Networks is pioneering Webscale Networking. We leverage the programmability of the new generate of physical and virtual network elements and apply scalable, flexible web and software technologies to the operation of networks. Our flagship product, the Stateless Network Director, interoperates with open network hardware from vendors like Arista and virtual network software like VMware's NSX to replace legacy polling, command line and script-based tools with a light-weight platform from which to view the entire network (physical and virtual) and make point-and-click operations to automate it. 

We combine real-time network awareness with management capabilities to help networks become responsive systems that are both transparent and highly automated. For network operators, we provide visibility and control as more functions are automated and virtualized. For cloud operators, we provide network abstractions to tie the network into unified cloud orchestration.

Our goal is to build a network operations capability in which applications requiring network resources can get them, and the system will simplify all of the processes underneath - the health of the network, the available capacity, even the cost of that capacity. So, we maintain the network in its optimum state, while, from an application's point of view, the network is always available, or "Stateless."

And, while that's a big vision, our Stateless Network Director adds immediate value to network operations by automating physical network operations and extending visibility of the virtual environment to operators of the physical network.

2. Do you see your company expanding past Arista Networks and HP?

Absolutely. We started working with Arista Networks because of their elegant open operating system, EOS. We see an major evolution toward programmable devices happening with other leading hardware vendors we're working with, and we can also provide a set of capabilities that extend to legacy devices. In virtualization, we are designed to interoperate with any system.

3. What is the difference and value add to your products?

As infrastructure (server, storage and networking) become virtualized, the separation of physical and virtual creates a critical gap. Virtualization admins are entirely focused on ensuring their environment is running smoothly. Network operations is struggling to gain visibility into that environment, and figure out how to correlate the physical hardware resources with the virtualization environment.

Stateless delivers visibility across the physical and virtual parts of the network, and automates the configuration and provisioning of the physical network to ensure it supports that virtualization environment. We fill that gap.

4. How does your product fit with in a large enterprise or the new SDN market?

Our focus is the enterprise data center, and we are working with large financial services firms who clearly understand the need for a solution like ours.

We fit as a lightweight management layer that interfaces programmatically with all network elements so they can be operated as one fabric. So we can start by optimizing management of the physical network while offering visibility and a safe bridge to virtualization.

Some call us the "gateway-drug to SDN."

5. Where do you see your products expanding to next, or options you will add to the current product?

Later in the year, we will add our Network Analyzer module, which will support high-sensitivity monitoring, advanced troubleshooting and historical analysis.

6. I know many customers would like to hear where your products competes with other vendors.

Our competition for the first generation of our Stateless Network Director is primarily in-house development efforts and custom scripting, with some competition from expensive, highly customized deployments of legacy tools like HPNA.

7. Do you see your company as standalone company for a while or a purchase target for other large equipment vendors?

There is a big opportunity for the next generation of systems that drive unified infrastructure. We have already been approached by larger vendors (both equipment and software), but our plan centers on driving change for customers.

8. Where in the world are most of your sales now and do you see growth in emerging markets?

We are currently U.S.-focused. We receive requests from Europe, Asia and Latin America and see substantial opportunities.

9. Let's talk about the cloud. What are you doing in the cloud now? Or do you see your product being used from the cloud?

We are a solution that will ultimately manage the infrastructure resources that enable cloud operation via Openstack, VMware etc. We will integrate into these platforms to provide network orchestration and automation for clouds.

Regarding our delivery model, our first generation is focused on local deployments in enterprise data centers. Our system can, however, be deployed from the cloud. Watch this space.

10. What would the buzzword that you would use to describe your product and company?

Webscale Networking.  We combine programmability and scalable architecture with consumer-grade tools and big data intelligence. (That's allot of buzzwords, yet they all apply.)

11. Do you spend allot of time look at what other companies are doing in your space?

We spend allot of time looking at the evolving ecosystem and how to best support customers who want to deploy best of breed capabilities for their networks.  We like much of what we see in cloud management, and look to web operators like Google and Facebook who custom-built predecessor systems to Stateless.

12. What is the one question when meeting with potential customers that you get the most and why?

Do you work with my legacy Cisco network equipment? Cisco has a big established presence in networks with a variety of products, and most companies have several different generations of them in operation.  We can support these legacy devices for a set of management and intelligence capabilities, but more powerful automation and responsive monitoring are enabled by our ability to integrate with programmable network elements like Arista's EOS or VMware's OVSDB.  So, we balance support through legacy protocols with collaboration with network vendors as they build more programmability in the forthcoming generation of products.

13. How does your product work in smaller companies or is your product for any company?

The Stateless Network Director is designed for operation in the largest enterprise data centers, with plenty of flexibility for interfacing with the systems in their environments. It is, however, also designed for a 'consumer -grade' experience. It can be used out of the box in the lab or in a small network deployment without training, customization or integration to begin managing, monitoring and automating a network.

14. How much can your company save a customer money by using your product, what is the ROI?

Generally, across a large data center, millions per year or more. Customers should be able to reduce labor OPEX by 80 percent or more and outages by 70 percent.  Depending on the organization, the cost of an outage can exceed the costs of OPEX, so the real ROI per company depends on the value on continuity and the cost of performance issues and service disruptions.  

15. Why should large or medium size customer look at your product over the other larger vendors?

Enterprises should look at us if they want to simplify network operations, increase virtualization or reduce opex.  We automate a great deal of what it takes to manage and maintain a network.  Those enterprises who are looking at the benefits and value that can be derived from SDN also understand it's not an overnight transformation.  Having the tools in place that can help them make that transition from physical to virtual to cloud is key, and we deliver the tools that enable the network to make that transition in a seamless manner.

16. If you could partner with one company right now to expand your product line or sales, who would it be and why?

Right now, we have as much partner activity as we can handle.  We are very fortunate to work with the best companies in networking, and they are keeping us busy.

17. IPad, iphone or android? What do you own?

iPad and iPhone. But, I read a review of the new Blackberry that has me intrigued.

18. What kind of songs are on your mp3 player?

I like great bands like Mumford & Sons, Cake and Fun. For the gym, LMFAO, and, when driving across country or hanging out with my dad, Roger Miller or Johnny Cash.

19. Being an executive like myself you have to have a release. Mine is golf. What is yours?

Big science. I like to spend time on projects where outrageously smart scientists & engineers work on massively scalable solutions for pig challenges like efficient energy and climate change. One of these projects is the laser inertial fusion program at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Labs. Similar to golf, but the shot is alot harder.

I also like spending time with my 15 and 16 year old nieces. They keep me ahead on consumer tech, social media, music and why absolutely everything is funny.

20. Fly, drive or train; which would you take the most if you had the chance?

I like bicycle rickshaws allot, and I'm waiting for a transporter. But, for long-haul transport, trains are my favorite.  

21. What's your favorite restaurant in Las Vegas?

The break area at the SuperNAP at Switch Networks, or poolside.

22. If you could go to Las Vegas with any four people in the world who would they be?

Bill Clinton, Elon Musk, Martin Casado and Mary Meeker. Playing poker.

23. Urban legend has it that on a recent trip to Las Vegas, Larry sang and played the piano to a 93 year old retired Las Vegas Showgirl for her birthday at Caesars Place. What was the song?

I feel like I should know this one...

24. What Billy Idol song from the 1980's starred a high school girl named Betsy?

Cradle of Love.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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