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Avi Networks: Modernizing Application Services

The big news in the evolving container ecosystem this past week was Mesosphere's announcement that it will be open sourcing its flagship Data Center Operating System, rebranded as DC/OS. (The company will also offer a commercial Enterprise version.) Among the long list of companies partnering with Mesosphere on DC/OS beta is a startup called Avi Networks, which got my attention at the Container World 2016 conference.

Started by former Cisco execs, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company emerged from stealth mode in December 2014 with the aim of delivering an application services platform fully implemented in software. The Avi Vantage Platform provides an alternative to legacy application delivery controllers (ADCs). It comprises the Avi Controller and distributed "elastic micro-ADCs" called Avi Service Engines, which are distributed across the environment to deliver services close to the applications. The platform's virtual engines perform Layer 4-7 functions (transport, session, presentation, application), which puts the company in competition with such established providers as F5 Networks, Citrix Systems, A10 Networks and Radware. Avi execs announced the integration of the Vantage Platform with Mesosphere's then-commercial-only DCOS at the Container World conference.

I had a chance to talk with Avi's CEO, Amit Pandey, about his company and its efforts to modernize application services. Pandey, who has been working around the Layer 4-7 space since 1998, said he has seen very little change in the architecture of the upper layers of the OSI model.

"It sits so close to the application that it's really surprising changes haven't happened," Pandey said, "because the fundamental way applications are build and deployed have changed dramatically. We've gone through a couple of generations of change, in fact. We had three-tier applications, then the onset of virtualization led to significant changes, especially in the way apps were deployed, and more recently we have microservices, which fundamentally changes the architecture and the tools for building and deploying applications. And through all this change, the ADC has just sort of chugged along. It's a very sleepy industry."

Avi's founders, Umesh Mahajan, Murali Basavaiah and Ranga Rajagopalan, decided to wake up that sleepy industry with an architecture that mimics a software-defined networking (SDN) architecture, Pandey said, resulting in what amounts to software-defined ADCs and load balancing. But the founders also recognized that, to accommodate things like microservices, containers, and public clouds, the architecture would have to be distributed, with a centralized control plane, and the ability to, essentially, learn about deployments and traffic patterns and bring that learning back in a kind of feedback loop to facilitate things like elastic scaleout, remediation against attacks, and/or giving developers the ability to troubleshoot microservices.

"In this brave new world of modern applications, we need the ability to control and manage highly distributed architectures; to manage multiple clouds; and to give analytics, visibility, and feedback for a high level of elasticity," Pandey said.

In a nutshell, Avi is providing appdev teams with a software-defined system that delivers discovery, security, and load balancing services elastically, with centralized control and monitoring. And Avi's layer of infrastructure is so application-like it can be put into a container and deployed almost anywhere. "Our customers often tell us that we are more like an application than infrastructure," Pandey said. And that's really what our vision of networking infrastructure is. It should be part of your app, because then the level of visibility and flexibility you have is phenomenal. Why should your network services be a distinct and inflexible hardware box when you can actually containerize it?"

Posted by John K. Waters on April 25, 2016