It's pure serendipity that Cisco unveiled its formal entry into the cloud market, targeted primarily at cloud service providers (CSPs) and enterprises, just days before Embrane, whose cofounders include two former Cisco executives, announced its initial product offering, says Dante Malagrino, CEO. A distributed software platform for powering on-demand elastic network services such as load balancers, firewalls, virtual private networks (VPNs) and WAN Optimization, Heleos is also aimed at CSPs and enterprises, says the co-founder, who spent more than a decade at Cisco.
The cloud changes everything about the infrastructure for delivering business services, he says, but while compute and storage architectures have been evolving to address new requirements, the network has never adapted and instead has become the bottleneck for broader cloud adoption. "Our mission is to accelerate adoption of cloud computing and the IT-as-a-service model with the most dynamic platform for virtual network services in both the cloud service provider and enterprise markets," says Malagrino. "The cloud requires agility, and the network is the bottleneck of the cloud. It doesn't support the things that the cloud requires."
The company's initial offering, Heleos, consists of two key components: Distributed Virtual Appliances (DVAs), or logical containers for running network services, and Elastic Services Manager (ESM), a virtual procurement and provisioning tool that streamlines deployment of DVAs for services on-demand. It uses a pool of x86 servers and leverages off-the-shelf compute virtualization technology from any hypervisor vendor to extract granular portions of compute resources, says Malagrino. It then dynamically assigns them to network service instances; capacity can be doubled in seconds, or grown eight times in less than a minute, and then dynamically scaled back down when capacity needs to be reduced. Initially, Heleos supports VMware ESX and Xen hypervisors, but others will be added as the market demands, says Malagrino.
Embrane is also releasing two network services, a load balancer and firewall/VPN. The company says these services deliver the performance, scalability and reliability advantages of a hardware-based appliance, and the flexibility and simplicity of a virtualized, software-based solution. ESM and DVAs also include RESTful APIs that enable straightforward integration with internally developed or commercial cloud orchestration tools, as well as other OSS and BSS applications.
The final announcement from Embrane is the pay-as-you-go Heleos keyless licensing model, available as either usage-based or subscription, for minimal up-front capital investment. This allows CSPs and enterprises to add more capacity or more services without needing to explicitly and individually license them.
Available immediately, Heleos ESM starts at $700 per month, with usage-based pricing starting at 16 cents an hour for 10 Mbps for a Heleos-powered load balancer and 8 cents an hour for 100 Mbps for a Heleos-powered firewall/VPN. Subscription-based pricing starts at $750 per year for 10 Mbps for the load balancer and $375 per year for a 100 Mbps firewall/VPN. Additional instances and burst capacity under each licensing plan can be purchased as needed.
Automation and orchestration are the keys to scale for service providers, says Eric Hanselman, the 451 Group research director, networks. "Embrane has built a foundation on which network services can be automated and scaled. They’re doing firewall and load management today, but the foundation can be used with any network service. They made some intelligent functionality choices that are geared to make transitions from existing implementations smoother and will allow service providers to offer a greater depth of control and configurability to their customers."
From a competitive positioning, the traditional view places them in competition with F5, Citrix and router-based solutions from Cisco, Juniper and others, but there’s much more to it, he says. "They’re allowing service providers to treat network services as one more piece of orchestration, rather than keeping it locked up in the physical infrastructure. In that sense, they don’t compete directly with traditional practices but could displace future sales as Heleos gets baked in to service provider offerings."
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