Special Report—The top 12 telecom disrupters of 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, FierceTelecom is announcing this year's list of top technology disrupters. It's been a busy year of SD-WAN, Kubernetes, edge cloud-native and 5G-announcements, and some of those technologies will find firmer footing next year.

FierceTelecom surveyed several analysts to get their takes on which companies made the grade for this year's list. Roy Chua is founder and principal at AvidThink, an independent research and advisory service formed in 2018 out of SDxCentral's research group.

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In addition to helping pick this year's top 12 telecom disrupters, Chua also provided a look forward into next year.

"As we round out the year and enter 2020, we'll see innovation in networking across a few major areas," Chua said. "The first is around enterprise connectivity and security. We'll see a mix of SD-WAN, private cores, cloud transit solutions, and even edge solutions come together. Likewise, on the security front, edge, campus, and cloud security will experience convergence. Second, we'll see a new wave of disaggregated solutions in networking, which started back with SDN. I see the rise of a new generation of cloud-architecture, cloud-scale networking fabric, and network functions.

"Finally, virtualized infrastructure in both clouds, telco, and the edge will continue to evolve on multiple fronts. I anticipate improvements in orchestration (and next-gen NFV) that can handle the scale of both cloud and edge. At the same time, there will be an increased focus on hardware acceleration at the infrastructure level, leveraging GPUs, FPGAs, and ASICs to improve performance while reducing power and space consumption, especially for edge, IoT and 5G-related use cases."

FierceTelecom also consulted with Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research, on this list of top disrupters. Here's a look at the 12 companies that made this year's cut:

• Arrcus is a network operating system (NOS) startup that was founded by CEO Devesh Garg, Keyur Patel and Derek Yeung. Arrcus' NOS allows network architects to build their infrastructure on the platform of their choice to deploy the networks in data centers or in the cloud. At the start of this year, San Jose, California-based Arrcus said it had the industry's first white box network operating system for 400 gigabit network switches. The Arrcus operating system competes with proprietary offerings from Juniper Networks, Cisco and Arista Networks.

• Aviatrix, which was founded in 2014, gives enterprise IT an architecture to provide a common set of networking, security and operational services across one or more public clouds. Aviatrix is led by CEO Steve Mullaney, who was formerly a top exec at VMware after previously serving as CEO of Nicira. Last month Aviatrix announced it had raised  $40 million in a Series C round of funding to put its total at $76 million.

• Cato Networks hits the right note for one of the biggest SD-WAN trends this year; the convergence of security and SD-WAN. Cato's private network, and "ground up" approach, separates the company from the SD-WAN pack by providing improved end-to-end quality of service for its enterprise customers.

• CloudGenix has been among the more successful SD-WAN vendors to date, which was reflected in April's $65 million Series C round of financing that brought its funding to a total of $100 million since it was founded in 2013. CloudGenix CEO Kumar Ramachandran said in an interview with FierceTelecom that his company has seen 300% growth since last year due to winning customers away from other SD-WAN vendors such as Cisco and VMware. CloudGenix has the capabilities to customize its SD-WAN platform with the company's APIs.

• DriveNets emerged from stealth mode earlier this year with a $117 round of Series A funding, which is a big investment for its vision of taking on the likes of Cisco, Juniper Networks and Huawei in a big way in the routing infrastructure space. Applying network-as-a-service concepts to the service-provider market, the Israel-based company's solution, Network Cloud, is a scalable software stack for traffic routing that offers management tools and cost visibility—all while running on white boxes. In April, DriveNets announced its 400G virtual router was being tested and certified by an unnamed Tier 1 telco (AT&T?) and that it was in proof-of-concept trials with other Tier 1 providers. 

• FlexiWAN co- founder and CEO Amir Zmora is on a mission to shake up the SD-WAN sector by giving service providers and enterprises a choice on how they define their SD-WAN services, instead of letting vendors define them. The Israel-based startup is in the process of launching an open source SD-WAN architecture. Open source SD-WAN is "certainly" a disrupter, according to AvidThink's Chua.

• Equinix is in a slugfest for colocation dominance with Digital Realty, and both companies have been on the move in 2019. In October, Equinix wrapped up a more than $1 billion joint venture to develop hyper-scale data centers in Europe with partner GIC, which is Singapore's sovereign wealth fund. In February, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Equinix announced it was moving into the NFV space by building its own global NFV infrastructure (NFVi) as a means to partner with enterprises and service providers to help enterprise move their workloads to the public cloud.

• Kaloom is taking a P-4-based approach to the switching fabric in 5G infrastructure with its Cloud Edge Fabric (CEF.)  Kaloom said CEF, which was announced in February, was the first fully automated data center network fabric with native support for network slicing, along with an embedded 5G user plane function. CEF compliments Kaloom's Software Defined Fabric (SDF) product family that was designed to automate and virtualize data centers.

• Mode.net has carved out a unique niche in the SD-WAN sector. San Francisco startup Mode.net uses its global private network — which it has patched together from partnerships with service providers, and also with Ericsson — to deliver what Mode calls its software-defined core (SD-Core). SD-WAN vendors, such as FatPipe and Versa Networks, can use Mode’s network-as-a-service (NaaS) to provide their SD-WAN technology to enterprises that have geographically-dispersed needs.

• Pensando, which came out of stealth mode earlier this year, brings a distinguished pedigree to its flagship software-defined edge services platform. The Pensando platform delivers highly programmable software-defined cloud, compute, networking, storage, and security services wherever data is located. The company is led by Mario Mazzola, Prem Jain, Luca Cafiero and Soni Jiandani, who were collectively known as "MPLS" (the letters of their first names) during their time at Cisco. In addition to the MPLS team, former Cisco CEO John Chambers sits on the Pensando board and is an investor in the company. Pensando has raised a total of $278 million since its founding two years ago.

• SiFive is an open-source central processing unit (CPU) vendor that is looking to take on the likes of Arm in the embedded market. SiFive is among the leaders of market-ready processor core IP and silicon solutions that are based on the free and open RISC-V instruction set architecture (ISA.) Earlier this year, Qualcomm was among the investors in a $65.4 million series D round for SiFive. Last month, SiFive announced its U8 Series CPU chip, which is its first out of order CPU core.

• Volta Networks is seeking to disrupt the router sector with its cloud-based virtual routing software. Earlier this year, Boston-based Volta Networks took the wraps off its Virtual Elastic Routing Engine (VEVRE) that it said could reduce the total cost of ownership by 90% when compared to legacy routers. VEVRE says it can scale up to 255 virtual routers per switch at a fraction of the cost of routers from traditional router vendors such as Cisco, Juniper Networks and Arista Networks by putting the processing in the cloud.

Congrats to this year's group of top telecom disrupters. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about all of them next year. — Mike