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Service Provider Cloud

Startup Pensando prepares for first live cloud customer deployment

A startup formed in 2019 by a group of ex-Cisco executives is preparing for its first live deployment with a cloud customer. Pensando Chief Business Officer Soni Jiandani told Light Reading that the company's software-defined distributed platform will be commercially deployed with multiple cloud customers in the third quarter. "We are expecting to be in production at scale with the bulk of the cloud customers in 30 to 60 days," Jiandani said.

This isn't the first commercial deployment for Pensando, but it is the first time the company's platform will be commercially deployed at scale with cloud customers. When the company moved out of stealth mode in 2019 it said it had one customer, Goldman Sachs, in production and several others were in trials.

Not only is Goldman Sachs a customer, but it is also an investor. Pensando has raised more than $300 million in venture funding from Lightspeed Ventures, HPE and Qualcomm Ventures. It also lists NetApp, Oracle, Ericsson, Vmware, Equinix and JC2 Ventures, which is headed by former Cisco CEO John Chambers, as partners and/or investors.

Chambers is also the chairman of Pensando's board. "John's leadership shines in this environment because of his relationships and his advice," said CEO Prem Jain.

Former Cisco executives make up a big part of Pensando. Jiandani, Jain, Mario Mazzola, vice chairman of the board, and Luca Cafiero, board member and technical advisor, all worked together at Cisco for more than 25 years and were collectively known as "MPLS," an acronym that referred to the first letter of executives' first names and is also the name of a network transport technology.

The MPLS team was well known within Cisco for creating startups, such as Andiamo, Nuova and Insieme, that weren't part of Cisco but were eventually acquired by the company.

According to Jain, he left Cisco in 2016 and planned to retire but soon he and Jiandani were noticing some interesting developments in the cloud industry. "We started looking at what was going on in the cloud business. The cloud was coming to the edge and bringing the intelligence into the network. We saw what Amazon and Microsoft were doing and thought we could do it better."

Jain and Jiandani pushed aside their retirement and joined former colleagues Mazzola and Cafiero. Another Cisco executive, Randy Pond, the former EVP of operations, joined Pensando in 2018 and is now the company's CFO. Jain said that having this much history together has helped the company make a lot of progress very quickly. "We know everyone's weaknesses and strengths," he said.

Having worked together for so many years also was helpful during the past year when everyone shifted to working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "We had to quickly shift to remote meetings with our customers," Jiandani said, adding that the company also had to figure out how to run test labs remotely because customers were accustomed to seeing the technology in person. Instead, Pensando set up labs in the US and in Europe and then allocated time for customers to come into the labs and take "test drives" on the equipment. "We would designate a time slot for them and give them access to the equipment so it was almost as if they were doing it within their own lab," Jiandani said. "This way they could see the power of the platform."

The technology

Jain likes to say that Pensando's platform "democratizes the cloud," which basically means that the company provides a distributed services platform that is cloud and infrastructure agnostic but provides companies with a way to offload storage, networking, security and cloud and compute resources. "It's applicable in the data center, the edge, and with 5G," Jain said.

Pensando claims its secret sauce is a customizable P4 processor it calls "Capri," which is optimized to deliver cloud, compute, network, storage and security services at cloud scale with minimal latency and doesn't require a lot of power.

Jiandani said that the company's goal was to design an architecture from the ground up that allows Pensando to attract customers from different market segments such as the cloud and enterprise but also extend to other areas like 5G. "We wanted an adaptable architecture that would allow us to have a wide range of customers," she added.

The first market Pensando went after was the cloud providers because of the size of the market. That's where the company plans to have its platform live within the next few weeks. The reason the company was able to move so quickly into production mode, according to Jiandani, is because of its partnerships with customers like Goldman Sachs, which worked closely with Pensando to figure out a model that they could then replicate with other customers.

The company is also in trials with some service provider customers and is collaborating with those service providers to develop 5G use cases.

Jain notes that he is well versed in the service provider market because he ran that part of Cisco's business in the early 2000s. He said that he believes that service providers find Pensando's technology appealing because its distributed services architecture will help them reduce their total cost of ownership.

Growth stars

Pensando has caught the attention of analysts. Futuriom founder and chief analyst Scott Raynovich named Pensando a "growth star," which he described as a company demonstrating rapid market traction and that may be an acquisition target.

However, Jain says that the company is laser-focused on execution. "Our heads are down and focused on customer success and innovation."

— Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.

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