Kemp Trying to Ride Wave of Change Coming to Networking Technology

The way networks run is getting an overhaul.

Software rather than hardware, says Ray Downes, is doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to steering data traffic for applications. Downes is the CEO of Kemp Technologies in New York and believes this movement is shaking up a landscape long dominated by network hardware vendors such as Cisco.

The idea is that software, combined with relatively common hardware, can do the same work managing networks as proprietary, expensive hardware systems from incumbents.

So-called software-defined networks offer opportunities for players such as Kemp to go after pieces of this digital puzzle, says Downes. He believes this concept will gain traction quickly as more apps are developed and run in the cloud. “If we are agile, we can get in at the start of this cycle,” he says.

Kemp is a maker of load balancers and application delivery controls (ADCs), which help steer traffic as applications run on networks. “Traditionally ADCs have been big complex metal boxes with bespoke hardware and software, costing large sums, and requiring a PhD to configure them,” says Simon Roach, Kemp’s chief technology officer.

Downes says with software doing much of the work virtually, it is not necessary to buy all the technology from a single vendor. “Companies might get a load balancer from Kemp, a firewall from another person, a switch router from Brocade, and daisy chain it all together,” he says.

Software-defined networks are still in the early stages of use, Downes says, but some big hardware companies have started to embrace the concept. Hewlett-Packard, for example, recently opened a software-defined network app store, which includes a load balancer app released last Friday from Kemp.

Downes says a load balancer aggregates information about the network and the applications running on it to make decisions about where to steer data traffic. If there is congestion at a switch in the network, the load balancer use that information guide app traffic somewhere else.

Roach says the company developed its load balancers at lower cost by using the Linux operating system and x86 hardware. (x86 is the CPU architecture common to personal computers).

The rest of the industry, Downes says, seems to be coming around to the benefits of relying more on software to wrangle the workload on networks. “You don’t have to have as much hardware development now,” he says.

Kemp thinks it has an edge on its rivals by offering just enough technology to meet the immediate needs of its clientele, who produce applications, rather than trying to sell them hardware and services to cover several years. “We’re not trying to do every possible function they might need,” he says. “Return on investment cycles are a lot shorter than what they were.”

Founded in 2000, Kemp has thus far raised $26 million and has grown its staff from 35 in 2012 to 165 current employees. The company also has offices in Limerick, Ireland.

In addition to players such as his company, Downes sees telecos exploring the possibilities that that software-defined networks can offers. Networking has largely remained the same since the Internet was commercialized, he says, and is overdue for change. “The proxy owners of the network, such as Cisco, have kept it the way it was,” Downes says.

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