Ahuja's Next Chapter Is Versa

Former Cisco kingpin fills the CEO seat at SD-WAN specialist Versa Networks, while another key ex-Cisco executive, Pankaj Patel, joins the startup's board.

November 17, 2016

5 Min Read
Ahuja's Next Chapter Is Versa

SD-WAN specialist Versa Networks has unveiled Kelly Ahuja, the former senior vice president (SVP) of Cisco's Service Provider Business, as its new CEO.

The up-and-coming Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup also named Pankaj Patel, formerly chief development officer at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), to its board. (See The Life & Times of Pankaj Patel and Cisco EVP Development Patel Says Sayonara.)

The appointments signal a major step in the corporate development of Versa Networks , which has made significant progress signing up major communications service provider customers in 2016. (See Colt Takes Versa on Its SD-WAN Journey, Versa Adds RCN Business to Customer Roster and Versa Makes Its Mark at CenturyLink.)

So what does Versa do that those companies like so much? It's explained here: Startup Versa Announces 'Carrier-Grade' Multi-Tenant NFV Platform.

As you would expect, Ahuja is pumped to be on board the Versa train. After leaving Cisco earlier this year, he says he looked around to see what was hot in various sectors, including mobility and cloud, and quickly realized that there was an ongoing shift towards the public cloud by enterprises looking for "speed and agility" and that "there is a huge opportunity for a new company to address the un-met need in wide area networking and IT services. Everyone is focused on virtualization" but cloud-native technology that can deliver the ability to easily scale up and down is still not commonly available, Ahuja tells Light Reading.

"So I spoke to some VCs to see if I should start something and they all said I should talk to Versa," adds the CEO.

He said he found there were four very good reasons to work at Versa -- "I call them the four Ts," he jokes.

  • Team: Ahuja says he knows Versa's founders, former Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) execs Kumar and Apurva Mehta, very well. "I know them and competed with them. They have an excellent track record." Kumar has been the CEO up until now.

    • Technology: Ahuja, naturally, believes Versa has the best "cloudized" technology for the SD-WAN and software-defined security market, one that is set to grow significantly in the coming years. To be fair, others think it's solution is pretty good too.

    • Timing: The market is just at the start of that growth spurt. The team at Versa like the projections published by IDC, which "estimates that worldwide SD-WAN revenues will exceed $6 billion in 2020 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 90% over the 2015-20 forecast period."

    • Traction: Versa's got some. Or, as Ahuja puts it: "There is plenty of [SD-WAN market] hype but I have heard unbiased views from the market that Versa has the best technical foundation" and that is what is driving the company's traction with network operators. "This is the right time to join Versa," says Ahuja, who is looking forward to working at "a late stage startup" (about 100 staff) after so many years at a "larger company." Figure 1: Back In The Game Former Cisco kingpin Kelly Ahuja is now CEO at Versa Networks. Expect that to be a talking point at Thursday after-works drinks gatherings in the Valley... Former Cisco kingpin Kelly Ahuja is now CEO at Versa Networks. Expect that to be a talking point at Thursday after-works drinks gatherings in the Valley...

      So how's Versa's financial health? That's not something Ahuja and the Versa team are ready to discuss currently. The company has raised $43 million from the likes of Sequoia Capital and Verizon Ventures to fund its growth and, with its software subscription-based revenues model, it will be some time before significant revenues start to feed through as its customers build their own business around Versa's capabilities. So is there a need for further funding? And is Ahuja on board to help Versa find a buyer of move towards an IPO?

      Ahuja has his script ready. "We are on a mission to build a successful business and we're focusing on executing. The right things will happen if you build a successful business… it's too early to be talking about an IPO."

      Versa's CMO Mark Weiner jumps in at this point to note that the current funding is plenty to fund the company's ongoing growth and add that, at some point in the future, further funding will likely be needed.

      In the meantime, the battle is on to win as big a share of the SD-WAN pie as possible. Versa, of course, has competition (though Ahuja likes to think of Versa as the "pure play" SD-WAN vendor). VeloCloud and Viptela are also active independent specialists that are landing deals with major service providers. (See VeloCloud Touts SD-WAN Wins, Sprint Plans Global SD-WAN Launch for 2017, AT&T Joins SD-WAN Fray and Verizon's Next With VNFs.)

      And of course there are the major infrastructure players, such as Ahuja's former employer Cisco and the Nuage Networks division of Nokia, to contend with. "Those are the legacy players," states Ahuja, seemingly keen to elicit a public response. (See Eurobites: BT Deploys Nuage for SD-WAN and BT Enters SD-WAN Fray With Cisco.)

      Interestingly, Cisco is an investor in VeloCloud. (See Cisco Joins $27M Round for SD-WAN Startup VeloCloud.)

      — Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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