Recently we had the opportunity of a “fireside chat” with Goldman Sachs networking and hardware analyst Rod Hall to set out Alkira’s vision of the future of the networking industry and our part in creating it.

We talked about the business imperatives driving customers to cloud and multi-cloud, the barriers holding them back, how Alkira’s solution removes those barriers, and the disruptive impact of our unique cloud network as-a-service (CNaaS) solution on the networking industry.

Our starting point for Alkira was the frustration of customers seeking to exploit the power of the cloud for digital transformation. For enterprise customers the major issues are complexity, cost, control and business agility. They have substantial investments in legacy systems and they are also making investments in the cloud, in most cases not just a single cloud but hybrid and multicloud either to take advantage of different cloud providers capabilities – such as optimized workloads – or for business resilience and insurance against lock-in.

But networking in these environments, managing users, applications, data and higher-level services like security, is extremely complex. Organizations want to be able to manage the entire network from end to end, with complete visibility regardless of the number of cloud regions the network crosses or connection types at the endpoints. They also need to be able to integrate their existing on-prem systems and manage the whole estate as a single, cohesive environment.

We saw similar requirements for born-in-the-cloud companies looking to grow their businesses fast. They might not suffer from the drag created by legacy systems, but they face the same problems of complexity building networks in, through and across clouds. Their agility is also being compromised by problems of provisioning networks with reliable connectivity, and by the challenge of enabling the visibility and end to end control they need to deliver innovative services to their customers.

In both cases the pain point is the network and that was the problem Alkira was created to solve.

The opportunity we saw was to leverage the enormous investments being made in network infrastructure by the cloud providers. As we see clouds expanding further and faster across the globe, covering not just major regions but extending to metropolitan areas, edge zones and ever closer to on-premise locations, the possibility of delivering networking to customers as a completely virtualized service is fast becoming a reality. We envisaged networking as pure utility, like electricity, with customers billed only for what they use, rather than having to guess how much power they would need next week or next year and then having to buy their own generators and hire engineers to keep them running.

Alkira’s CNaaS provides exactly that capability: networking as a utility – not just raw power but with all the higher-level services needed to make it secure and manageable, including the ability to insert and manage third-party firewalls and handle advanced routing, network segmentation, address translation and all the functions that are currently so challenging in multi-cloud environments.

I’ve talked elsewhere about the benefits for enterprise customers like Koch Industries with a huge global network and for unicorns like Tekion, which is using our service to connect auto dealerships around the world. Both have similar stories to tell about how Alkira has unleashed their business agility, dramatically cut network provisioning time, reduced cost and improved their ability to manage critical IT infrastructure.

We believe the impact will be profound not just for our customers but for the wider networking industry.

It’s no secret that the market for MPLS networks is waning, but at $40-50B the market remains huge. With the world’s first cloud backbone as a service (CBaaS) in our armory Alkira provides a more flexible, scalable and economic alternative to MPLS.

SD-WAN – a technology that Alkira pioneered at Viptela– is also entering a new phase of evolution. Greenfield customers building networks in the cloud need to seriously consider whether it makes sense to deploy SD-WAN in these environments, but the Alkira platform integrates SD-WAN fabrics to allow established enterprise customers to unwind legacy investments gracefully.

When we developed SD-WAN it was to meet the needs of a world focused on connecting data centers, branches and the internet. That world is changing fast as the growing army of remote workers creates “branches of one” and the industry needs to change with it.

What we see over time as the cloud expands and new superfast connectivity such as private 5G starts to address the problems of the last mile, is that the complex world of multiple connection types and transports and protocols begins to rationalize – we end up with one network, elastic, scalable, easy to manage and applicable to all use cases.

That’s the Alkira vision and we’re excited about it because we know it’s a vision shared by enterprises of all kinds. Is it possible? We’re already doing it.