What if you could set up, on demand, a global network with the bandwidth, latency, security and routing that your applications require, just as easily as you can today provision the storage and processing power in the cloud that applications require?
That’s the promise of application specific networking that US-based startup NetFoundry claims to have realised. The company has just appointed its first sales rep for Asia Pacific, in Singapore, and founder Galeal Zino says it will be in the Australian market “soon”.
Computerworld spoke with Zino at NetEvents’ global IT press and analyst summit in San Jose as the company was about to ramp up its marketing efforts. NetFoundry is a startup incubated by India’s Tata Communications. It emerged from stealth mode at Mobile World Congress in February. It is still fully funded by Tata Communications.
According to Zino, NetFoundry’s platform allows an application, a developer or network administrator to “quite literally make their own network.” He said: “Just as Microsoft Azure, or Amazon allow you to spin up virtual machines in the cloud on demand, NetFoundry allows you to spin up secure global application-specific networks on demand.”
A WAN to suit every application
“What we have is a specific type of software-defined network, what we call an application specific network,” Zino said. “That means every application gets its own WAN: A network that is tuned and driven by the specific needs of that application. Those needs are usually security or performance or regulatory compliance.”
Despite the network being set up ‘on the fly’, Zino claims it can uniquely meet the performance, throughput, latency, jitter requirements of that application. “A customer just needs an Internet connection. We are completely agnostic to the network the customer has,” Zino said.
He said that NetFoundry achieves this functionality using software integrated with the application being served along with software that it spins up on demand in private data centre and cloud computing centres around the world as the application and the client demand. This software then provisions capacity on global networks routes from multiple carriers.
“We have about ten nodes around the world that are permanent, and depending on the region we can get within one or two hops of the customer,” Zino says.
He acknowledges that NetFoundry has no control over the ‘last mile’ the public Internet connection to an application.
“Our software acts as a thick network driver on the device, or on an edge gateway where we intercept the packets from the application, encrypt them and re-address the to the nodes on our network so the only thing the last mile network needs to do is pass those packets to the nearest NetFoundry transit point.
“Because we are encrypting the data we are still protecting it over that public last mile. Because we have isolated the data to a high degree it can be very secure: any packet that tries to get onto the network that does not belong to that application and that has not been authorised and authenticated by us we can immediately reject.”
Integration with IBM Watson
NetFoundry’s biggest and most high profile customer to date is IBM Watson, which is using NetFoundry’s services to expedite the connection of contact centres wanting to use Watson artificial intelligent contact centre services.
Watson offers AI driven chatbots and can also listen into a customer conversation with a call centre agent and using its AI capabilities sends helpful messages to the agent.
“When a contact centre wants to use Watson services they need to connect to one of the Watson data centres in Amsterdam, Dallas or Sydney,” Zino said.
“They could go to their friendly MPLS provider and ask for an extension to one of those data centres and it would take three months and cost thousands of dollars. But if they use us they can connect to Watson in minutes over the Internet.”
He says NetFoundry’s application specific networking is now sold by IBM bundled with these services because it shortens the sales cycle. “Increasingly we believe people will not buy NetFoundry per se. They will be buying a SaaS application or an IoT edge platform with us making it work under the covers.”
Helping to secure IoT applications
Another early customer, announced at NetFoundry’s launch in February, is Integron, a managed services company that provides IoT networking services for the health and other demanding industries
“Integron manages about a million healthcare IoT devices worldwide,” Zino said. “In this case they were supporting a clinical drug trial: the participants take home an Android tablet running an Integron app. They use that to record when they eat, when they sleep etc.
“That data needs to securely and reliably go to whoever is administrating the trial, but of course the participants are on their home network, in a coffee shop using public Wi-Fi or wherever. So Integron took our SDK, took our software, integrated it with their app to provide them the ability, regardless of that last mile network, to securely and reliably transmit the data to the folks who needed it.”
Zino said NetFoundry had signed only 10 customers to date but was now on the cusp of ramping up its marketing efforts “We have not done much marketing and PR because the level of automation and self-healing in our network was such that we can service these 10 customers comfortably but we were not ready to serve hundreds or thousands. Now we are.”
The author attended NetEvents conference as a guest of the organisers