10 hot SD-WAN startups to watch

Giant vendors such as AT&T, Cisco, Citrix and VMware carry influence in SD-WAN, but these 10 startups are making a name for themselves

sd-wan optimization
istock

The SD-WAN market is hot, with all of the usual networking suspects (Cisco, VMware, AT&T, Citrix, etc.) staking a claim. But make no mistake, this is a market sector that was built, defined, and refined by startups.

A few early movers have already been taken off the table, snatched up by incumbents seeking to modernize their networking portfolios: Cisco acquired Viptela for $610 million; VMware bought VeloCloud for an estimated $449 million; NTT purchased Virtela for $525 million, and Riverbed, which was a leader in the precursor WAN optimization space, acquired Ocedo (price undisclosed) to help it manage its transition to a software-defined future.

Personally, I regard this market sector as a land grab still. Moving branch and overseas offices away from box-heavy, labor-intensive MPLS/VPN infrastructure to software-defined networking is itself a massive undertaking, but when you add in the many cloud, mobile, and rich-media apps invading the enterprise, it’s no surprise that IDC expects the SD-WAN market to reach $8 billion by 2021.

According to research firm IHS Markit, the current SD-WAN market leaders are VMware (VeloCloud), Aryaka (founded in 2009; still private), Silver Peak (founded in 2004; still private), and Cisco (Viptela).

The 10 startups below hope to move the space forward and snatch market share away from the leaders listed above as they do. (Full disclosure: I have worked with several SD-WAN vendors, most recently as Head of Marketing Strategy for Aryaka a couple of years back.)

BigLeaf Networks

Year founded: 2012

Funding: $7M

Headquarters: Portland, Ore.

CEO: Joel Mulkey. Prior to Bigleaf, Mulkey served as the CIO and Network Architect for Freewire Broadband.

What they do: Provide cloud-based SD-WAN for distributed enterprises.

BigLeaf’s SD-WAN service is designed to accelerate cloud-based applications, detecting performance issues in real time and automatically adjusting traffic patterns as new applications are on-boarded. BigLeaf’s core Cloud Access Network relies on intelligent, dynamic load-balancing technologies to react in real time to new cloud deployments and changing Internet performance to ensure that the user’s cloud experience is always optimized.

Key differentiator: “Unlike SD-WAN vendors that can optimize a limited number of cloud providers like Microsoft and Amazon, Bigleaf can optimize traffic to and from any technology delivered as a service,” wrote Aaron Kaffen, BigLeaf’s VP of Marketing, in an email to us. “Our site-to-cloud architecture connects users’ sites directly to our purpose-built Internet backbone, allowing us to optimize all upload and download traffic. We also peer with 1,000+ cloud applications for additional optimization.”

Kaffen also noted that several competitors rely on manual policy enforcement and policy-based configurations. In contrast, BigLeaf is able to automatically detect priority application traffic and ensure that it’s routed over the optimal connection.

Competitors include*: Aryaka, VMware (VeloCloud), Cato Networks
Customers include: New Season, Vern Fonk, Grit Technologies, and Array Health

(*Note: for the startups that provided us with this information, we’re listing only the competitors they say they run into most frequently during the sales cycle.)

Cato Networks

Year founded: 2015

Funding: $70M

Headquarters: Tel Aviv, Israel

CEO: Shlomo Kramer, who previously co-founded Check Point Software and Imperva

What they do: Provide cloud-based SD-WAN services.

Cato’s SD-WAN service, Cato Cloud, connects all of an enterprise’s network elements – including branch locations, the mobile workforce, and physical and cloud data centers – into a global, encrypted SD-WAN in the cloud. With all WAN and Internet traffic consolidated in the cloud, Cato applies a set of security services to protect traffic.

Cato Cloud is comprised of two complementary layers: Cato Cloud Network and Cato Security Services. The Cato Cloud Network is a global, geographically distributed network of PoPs that is interconnected by multiple tier-1 carriers.

Cato also offers Cato Security Services, a managed suite of network security capabilities that are built into the network. Current services include firewall/VPN, secure web gateway, advanced threat prevention, cloud and mobile access protection, and network forensics.

Key differentiator: According to a Cato spokesperson, Cato’s advantage versus competitors is that it has converged SD-WAN and security capabilities into a cloud software stack that protects all traffic – mobile, cloud, and other Internet traffic.

Competitors include: Aryaka, VMware (VeloCloud), Cisco (Viptela), and Silver Peak

Customers include: Sanne Group, DSM Sinochem Pharmaceuticals, AdRoll and Paysafe

CloudGenix

Year founded: 2013

Funding: $57M

Headquarters: San Jose, Calif.

CEO: Kumar Ramachandran. Prior to founding CloudGenix, Ramachandran held leadership roles in Product Management and Marketing for the branch-routing and WAN-optimization businesses at Cisco. Prior to Cisco, he managed applications and infrastructure for large companies, such as Citibank and Providian Financial.

What they do: Provides enterprise SD-WAN services.

CloudGenix’ AppFabric allows businesses to define how their WAN should behave for each of their applications. AppFabric is an application-aware platform, understanding both network and application factors that contribute to overall user experience. This enables CloudGenix to route traffic according to business requirements.

Key differentiator: According to a CloudGenix representative, what separates them from other vendors is that “AppFabric is application-aware and considers network health and performance indicators in addition to application health and performance indicators.”

CloudGenix also relies on an “API-first approach,” which allows businesses to simplify and automate their enterprise WANs.

Competitors include: Cisco (Viptela) and VMware (VeloCloud)

Customers include: Chase, Columbia Sportswear, Restoration Hardware, Macy’s, and Home Point Financial

Mode

Year founded: 2013

Funding: $24.3M

Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif.

CEO: Paul Dawes. Dawes previously served as the CEO of icontrol, which was purchased by Comcast in 2017. Earlier, he led the sales team for Liberate, which had its IPO in 1999.

What they do: Operate a private, global Network-as-a-Service.

Mode refers to its service as being akin to a “global MPLS cloud.” Mode works with SD-WAN edge devices, which direct their traffic to its software-defined core network. According to Mode, its routing efficiencies allow it to deliver the reliability of MPLS along with the flexibility, elasticity and affordability of a cloud service.

Key differentiator: According to a Mode representative, Mode sets itself apart from competitors through its “software-defined core,” which provides MPLS-like reliability as a cloud-based service. Mode works with any SD-WAN service, providing “an affordable QoS connectivity option, one that supports. . . a phased transition from MPLS.”

Competitors include: Aryaka and Cato Networks

Customers include: Ericsson

SimpleWAN

Year founded: 2014

Funding: SimpleWAN won a $250K grant from the Arizona Innovation Challenge in 2017. It declined to disclose other funding.

Headquarters: Phoenix, Ariz.

CEO: Erik Knight. Prior to SimpleWAN, Knight was founder and CEO of COMVOICE, which was sold to Jive Communications in April 2014.

What they do: Provide an all-in-one networking suite that combines SD-WAN, managed WiFi, security and other services.

SimpleWAN provides up to 1 Gbps of throughput, a built-in firewall with intrusion prevention, multiple access points for enterprise-grade WiFi, automated HIPAA and PCI compliance, diagnostics and monitoring, and other enterprise networking services from a single box.

Key differentiator: According to SimpleWAN, its advantage is the many services it offers from one box. SimpleWAN offers plug-and-play provisioning, the ability to add multiple locations from a smart phone and intelligent cyber-protection that auto-updates to protect against new threats.

Competitors include: Meraki, VMware (VeloCloud), Barracuda and Fortinet

Customers include: Napa, Domino's Pizza, Toyota, Chevrolet, SuperShuttle and Meineke

Speedify

Year founded: 2014

Funding: Undisclosed

Headquarters: Philadelphia, Pa.

CEO: Alex Gizis, who was previously the CEO of Nomadio

What they do: Provide an SD-WAN service that bonds WiFi, cellular, Ethernet and other connections into one combined link that provides greater bandwidth.

Speedify offers a standalone software app for both computers and mobile devices that uses channel bonding techniques to combine multiple Internet connections simultaneously into one secure pipe. The resulting connection provides greater efficiency, redundancy, and automatic failover protection.

Key differentiator: Unlike other SD-WAN providers, Speedify is a client-side solution that requires no hardware. It is also the only SD-WAN solution (that I’m aware of, at least) that’s available to individuals as well as businesses.   

Competitors include: Peplink, Mushroom Networks, and Viprinet

Turnium Technology

Year founded: 2017

Funding: Undisclosed

Headquarters: North Vancouver, BC

President: Johan Arnet, who previously served as CTIO for Multapplied Networks

What they do: Provide SD-WAN services based on channel bonding technologies.

Turnium Edge takes multiple connections (DSL, Cable, MPLS, etc.) and bonds them together to deliver improved speed and performance. According to Turnium, its cloud-based service “intelligently manages your network to deliver over 99% uptime, provides visibility into critical data, and lets you accommodate bandwidth demand at a moment’s notice.”

Key differentiator: Turnium relies on channel bonding technology, rather than its own backbone (the only other startups with that focus in this roundup are Speedify and Vrayo), and it also focuses on specific verticals, including education, finance and retail. 

Competitors include: Meraki, VMware (VeloCloud) and Speedify

Versa Networks

Year founded: 2012

Funding: $111.9M

Headquarters: San Jose, Calif.

CEO: Kelly Ahuja. Prior to Versa, Kelly spent 18 years at Cisco, most recently serving as SVP of Service Provider Business, Products and Solutions.

What they do: SD-WAN and SD-Security services.

For the enterprise, Versa provides software-defined branch (SD-Branch) services, SD-WAN with layered security and managed networking and security services. For service providers, Versa offers SD-Router and SD-Security services.

Key differentiator: According to a company spokesperson, Versa Networks’ key competitive differentiation is the “completeness of its Cloud IP Platform,” which allows it to deliver “SD-WAN with integrated security to software-define the branch.” Versa delivers an “automated solution that offers simplified SD-WAN, application-experience routing and integrated next-generation security. . . within a single unified software platform offering secure multi-cloud and enterprise branch dynamic connectivity.”

Competitors include: Cisco (Viptela), CloudGenix and VMware (VeloCloud)

Customers include: CapitalOne, CenturyLink, and Verizon 

Vrayo Systems

Year founded: 2017

Funding: Undisclosed

Headquarters: Dun Laoghaire, Ireland

CEO: Alexander Belenky, Managing Partner and co-founder. Belenky previously served as Head of Large Customer Sales for Google Ireland.

What they do: Provide SD-WAN services for autonomous cars, public transport connectivity, and UAV telemetry.

Vrayo’s multichannel VPN bonding software, VtrunkD, combines multiple links into a single channel. It relies on complex algorithms to manage, simulate, and measure network's feedback loop. According to the startup, this enables high network performance over a wide range of deployment scenarios, medium types, and network conditions.

Key differentiator: Vrayo’s channel-bonding software is focused on a few key transportation verticals. Vrayo also sees its software as a foundation that will lead it into the edge computing market.  

Competitors include: Speedify and Turnium

Zenlayer

Year founded: 2014

Funding: $10M

Headquarters: Los Angeles, Calif., and Shanghai, China

CEO: Joe Zhu, who formerly served as SVP Global Business at ChinaCache

What they do: Provide SD-WAN services for global enterprises.

According to a Zenlayer representative, Zenlayer’s SD-WAN service provides an interconnected network that can reach more than 80 percent of the world’s internet-connected population in under 25ms. Zenlayer also offers colocation, managed hosting, on-demand bare-metal servers, and edge computing services.

Key differentiator: According to Zenlayer, it differentiates itself through its ability to offer “elastic, burstable bandwidth to meet unexpected or short-term surges. . . instant provisioning for all existing PoPs, and massive DDoS protection capability at 1 Tbps+”.

Competitors include: Aryaka, Megaport, Versa Networks, Cato Networks

Customers include: UCloud, Catchpoint, Tencent, Linkedin

(Jeff Vance is the founder of Startup50.com, a site that discovers, analyzes, and ranks tech startups. Follow him on Twitter, @JWVance, or connect with him on LinkedIn.)

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Related:
Now read: Getting grounded in IoT