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The California-based firm’s CEO and founder, Mansour Karam, talks about enabling IT to achieve superhero status


Mansour Karam

Mansour Karam, CEO and founder, Apstra

Tell us about your company.

I founded Apstra in 2014 along with Sasha Ratkovic and David Cheriton. It is headquartered in Menlo Park, California and is privately funded. It is a Gartner Cool Vendor, and Best of VMworld winner.

What is your business model?

Apstra Intent-Based Data Center Automation increases application availability and reliability, simplifies deployment and operations, and dramatically reduces costs for Enterprise, Cloud Service Provider and Telco data centres.

What’s the technology under the hood?

The Intent-Based Data Center is built on and incorporates key technological elements, which include Intent-Based Networking (IBN), distributed system architecture, self-operation, remediation and cloudification, which are necessary to increase application availability and reliability, simplify deployment and operations, and dramatically reduce costs (Capex and Opex).

Apstra IBN technology enables the integration, configuration, monitoring and troubleshooting of thousands of disparate network elements into an agile, reliable and flexible system all driven by declarative intent. IBN includes automation, single-source of truth across areas such as device configuration, IP address management (allocation), and even cable configurations, while also creating an environment of real-time verification for initial and ongoing deployment and operations.

Apstra IBN includes Intent-Based Analytics, which incorporates sophisticated technologies for monitoring an entire network or networks across one or more data centres. This includes pervasive, real-time, proactive telemetry probes, which identify even the slightest changes in the system. These are then quickly communicated back to the operations teams to confirm recommended remediations. All of this information is fed back into the the Intent-Based Networking system to implement self-healing functionality, also.

Apstra IBN technology allows engineers and admins to focus on the goals of the network as a distributed system, without the need to be immersed in the underlying disparate elements. IBN is focused on the management plane where most human efforts and errors take place, such as IP assignment, device replacement, segmentation change and more. It takes the guesswork out of network management in the presence of constant change, not only change in business rules, but also change in network operating state.

Because Apstra IBN technology knows the complete interdependencies between all elements, it allows operators to declare intent for conducting live, interactive querying of the network state. This Intent-Based Analytics approach enables operators to extract actionable and contextual insights out of raw telemetry, therefore greatly reducing MTTI.

Apstra Distributed System Architecture allows IT to view, operate, manage and troubleshoot the entire data centre network in real-time via a single source of truth. The architecture scales to incorporate every device in the network and maintains continuous, real-time integration to seamlessly and quickly enact changes specified through the intent of IT in addition to rapidly detecting, identifying and mitigating anomalies across the data centre or data centres.

The Apstra Graph Datastore represents that state of all relationships between underlay, overlay, policy and workloads. This graph datastore is uniquely scalable and dynamic (responds dynamically to change) because it’s built on top of our pub-sub distributed data store. Apstra incorporates the Apstra Graph Datastore, which incorporates multiple planes of information that are continuously correlated, updated and validated in real time by the Apstra IBN engine. The Apstra Graph Datastore maintains user intent, policy, symptoms, events, root causes, cable configurations, IP address pools, resource management, telemetry, analytics, intended configurations, current operation state and an open and vendor-agnostic overlay.

The Apstra Vendor-Agnostic Overlay decouples people, processes and tools from network complexities and specialisations. This view is used to commit modifications declared by IT through intent and also consolidates health, status and configuration of the network in a simple view.

The Apstra Vendor-Agnostic Overlay abstracts the hundreds of types of hardware and software combinations from a multitude of hardware, software, operating system and open source vendors. Build and configuration is dramatically simplified through logical design which can easily be applied to specific vendor or open source implementations and devices. The complexity of those specific vendor devices and operating systems is addressed directly by Apstra Intent-Based Data Center Automation, meaning IT no longer needs to specialise in multiple vendor products, command line interfaces, and tools to take advantage of best-of-breed technology for a specific implementation.

What sets you apart from the competition?

Business transformation is driving the mandate for data centre infrastructure transformation, cloudified operations, increased reliability and reduced costs. IT clients are demanding a cloud-like experience, simplified operations and lower DevOps costs.

Apstra Intent-Based Data Center Automation meets all these demands and enables IT to achieve superhero status with an Intent-Based Data Center. Enterprises are now able to design, build, deploy and maintain an Intent-Based Data Center that dramatically increases application reliability and availability, simplifies deployments and operations, and dramatically reduces costs.

Apstra delivers interoperability across the entire networking stack for switch operating systems and switch hardware, auto-rendered configurations and customisable Intent-Based Analytics. These capabilities allow customers to run their network operations at the same scale, operational efficiency and agility as large cloud companies without the cost and risk of DIY scripting and programming. Apstra is committed to open networking, disaggregating the fundamental building blocks of networking to maximise customer choice, cost savings and capability.

Enterprise IT is using Apstra to take back control of the data centre and give everyone everything they want and need with an Intent-Based Data Center to simultaneously meet demands from their leadership and clients. With Apstra, IT is delivering cloud-like network operational agility and reliability, leveraging turnkey automation without the cost and risk of DIY programming. They are also leading the creation of a cloud-like experience for shadow IT, end-users, and DevOps teams.

What was your smartest move?

Establishing our values, which are critical to our high performance standards. One of the first documents we wrote when we started the company was our values document, which we share with prospective candidates and every Apstrktr signs on the first day of employment. Our top three values at Apstra are: Do the right thing; Collaborate and communicate; and Strive for maximum competency and impact.

Can you tell us about one of your deployments?

Bloomberg Television is leveraging Apstra Intent-Based Analytics and Root Cause Identification, where a single source of truth is leveraged to identify and validate the root cause of network problems before it hampers performance. It opted for spine-leaf topology to provide consistency of data volume, scale and deterministic application performance. Bloomberg Television’s reputation depends on providing a seamless broadcast experience for a worldwide audience of millions, so it wanted automation to continuously check, monitor and validate the health of the network.

The new media production network connects the central studio, three other broadcast positions, two recording studios, a photography studio and three control rooms and all of Bloomberg TV’s production equipment. The all-IP data network includes 90+ network nodes, 400+ 40GbE network fabric links, 4,000+ network ports and 2,000+ live network endpoints connecting at a combination of 10GbE, 40GbE and 100GbE – not to mention a 14 petabyte video storage system. With real-time validation and remediation, the company is one step closer to its ultimate goal of becoming a self-operating network.

What was your biggest setback?

Startup companies typically establish critical mass in the country where they are founded and gradually grow internationally. Apstra was fortunate to experience demand from multiple theatres, but this required the company to quickly and seamlessly scale internationally across Asia Pacific, Europe, the UK and North America. Responding to this demand while maintaining exceptional quality and support was one of our biggest challenges.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Traditionally complex design, configuration, deployment, operation and validation of networks will be fully automated. Apstra will be the leader in lifecycle automation, real-time closed loop validation and complicated root cause identification for private data centre, multi-cloud, cloud compute and campus implementations

by IBS Intelligence