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Viptela's Kingpins Have a New Stealth Startup

Cisco has lost some key SD-WAN staff that came on board with the Viptela acquisition, as they've left to join their former CEO in a new startup.

July 12, 2018

4 Min Read
Viptela's Kingpins Have a New Stealth Startup

Less than a year after joining Cisco as part of the $610 million acquisition of Viptela, several key SD-WAN specialists have jumped ship to form a new tech startup backed by two of the biggest VC names in Silicon Valley, Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The startup is San Jose, Calif.-based Alkira, which was founded in May this year. The company is keeping its plans and the extent of its funding secret currently, revealing only the identities of its backers:

But what's clear is that Alkira is building a team around some of the key personnel who:

  • Founded Viptela in 2012

  • Attracted funding from Sequoia (usually a sign that a startup is doing something funky)

  • Built one of the SD-WAN sector's leading players

  • Eventually attracted a bid of $610 million from Cisco in May 2017, with the deal closing in August when Viptela became part of the giant vendor's Enterprise Routing Team within the Networking and Security unit.

(See Cisco Snaps Up Viptela, Cisco Looks to $610M Viptela Acquisition to Simplify SD-WAN and One to Watch: Viptela.)

What's also clear is that Cisco has now lost some of the human resource smarts it paid for just last year. The individuals who joined Cisco as part of the Viptela deal but who have now cleared their desks are:

Atif Khan -- Alkira co-founder and CTO. He was head of technology at Viptela and then joined Cisco as senior director of technical marketing (SD-WAN/Routing). He has also previously worked at Huawei, Juniper, Timetra (Alcatel-Lucent, now Nokia) and Procket Networks.

Himanshu Shah -- Alkira chief architect. He was at Viptela from 2012 through the acquisition and joined Alkira in May. He was also previously at Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent.

They have joined:

Amir Khan -- Alkira co-founder, president and CEO. He was also a founder and, until the few months leading up to the Cisco acquisition, CEO at Viptela (2012-2017). Before that he held various positions at Juniper, Cisco and Procket Networks. Light Reading believes Khan did not join Cisco as part of the acquisition but the CEO declined to comment when asked.

Murtuza Attarwala -- Alkira co-founder and VP engineering. He was a senior product manager at Viptela and before that at Juniper for eight years and Ciena for four years. It is unclear whether Attarwala joined Cisco as part of the acquisition.

The move is very interesting but not shocking, as it conforms to what one might call the "Silicon Valley Circle of Life" -- ambitious innovators leave major tech firms, form startups with big-name VC support, build company over four to five years, sell startup to big tech firm, head to the beach/join big tech firm as part of the deal and stay a while, get bored of the beach/leave big tech firm and form a new startup with big-name VC support.

(* Many join a new company as part of an acquisition deal but some take a break, recharge their batteries -- including those of their new Tesla -- and then start again fresh once they feel the need to scratch their Valley Itch.)

Major tech firms don't come much bigger than Cisco, and given the number of acquisitions it has made over the years it'll be used to post-deal staff attrition, though losing leading individuals in a growing and very hot market will grate. Cisco had yet to respond to Light Reading's questions as this article was published. (See Why SD-WAN Is Taking Off Now, SD-WAN Revenue Reached $162M in Q1 2018 and SD-WAN Market Will Hit $8B by 2021.)

But it'll also be nervous, as should other traditional data networking technology vendors. Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins know a good thing when they see it and Alkira's founders have a great track record in disrupting the networking market.

Amir Khan declined to respond to questions about Alkira's plans and its funding and Light Reading did not receive responses from Khan's new colleagues.

It's likely, though, that this team will be focused on developing a cloud-native, software-based system that will undermine the legacy networking market in some way or another, with distributed, virtualized packet traffic management functionality likely to be at the heart of Alkira's R&D. Security is a significant focus for any networking startup these days, and there are plenty of opportunities around SD-WAN and enterprise cloud service security currently, and it's worth noting that the Alkira team has some experience in developing mobile networking capabilities.

Alkira isn't the first Valley tech startup to be formed by innovators still counting their acquisition payouts, and it won't be the last, but this looks like a particularly interesting new Santa Clara outfit to watch.

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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