Networks continue to become more and more complex as they grow in response to traffic and application demands. Intent-driven approaches are an important element of simplifying network operations and ensuring policy compliance. Forward Networks has quickly positioned itself as a market leader and a thought leader in the newly emerging space of Intent-Based Networking, delivering a platform with the analytical tools and insights that can verify network implementations are in alignment with business and network intent. IBN, as it is known, is software that helps administrators plan, design, implement and operate networks in a way that improves availability, agility, and efficiency.
Forerunners of Forward Networks
Forward Networks, headquartered in Palo Alto, California, was founded in July 2013 by four Ph.D. graduates from Stanford University, David Erickson, Brandon Heller, Nikhil Handigol, and Peyman Kazemian. These Co-founders are pioneers of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and have spent their careers working to improve networking, as contributors to OpenFlow. David Erickson, Co-founder, CEO at Forwards Networks, had also worked to improve workload performance in Virtualized Data Centers. During their extensive work, they came across various routine challenges that network engineers and operators were experiencing trying to keep their networks running, secure, and agile. They experienced challenges themselves while operating some of the first SDN deployments at Stanford running OpenFlow. They soon realized that network operations technology had been under-invested in for years, and decided it was time to bring improvements to network operations that SDN had failed to deliver. David and his team built a platform that simplifies operation of the world’s largest networks to increase visibility and reduce the risk of errors and outages.
Products and Services That Sets Forward Networks Apart
Forward Networks flagship product, Forward Enterprise, is a solution that lets network operators quickly analyze network behavior to identify problem areas and proactively head off network outages. It supports visibility and analysis into both virtual networks, such as VMware ESXi virtual switches, as well as physical devices from nearly all major network, security, and application delivery controller vendors. It lets users get a better understanding of their network topology and inventory, and allows them to test the potential behavior of the network under any condition.
The primary focus of Forward Networks within the IBN space is around network verification, a systematic analysis based on a mathematical model of the network to verify that network implementations are aligned with network intent as determined by high-level business, network and security policies. Verification can catch errors and policy violations before they arise in live network traffic through the intelligent analysis of current network state and configuration files. Forward Networks creates a precise software model of the network, including every potential traffic flow of packets within it. On top of this behaviorally accurate software model, users can now search, verify and analyze network attributes and configuration in unprecedented ways with greater efficiency. The primary use case being verifying that all intent-based policies are accurately represented in the network’s configuration and behavior.
Aiding and Planning to Overcome Challenges
Forward Networks — a startup that emerged from stealth at the end of 2016 – has built a platform aimed at service providers and enterprises to analyze their networks and identify problems that cause network outages and to accelerate remediation. The usual challenges of raising capital and building a team were overcome through the reputation and accomplishments of the co-Founders. The Forward Networks team had strong relationships with Martin Casado, who they worked with at Stanford on OpenFlow and SDN technology, and who is now at Andreesen Horowitz (a16z). Andreesen Horowitz became an early investor, along with DFJ, and A.Capital. With the excitement surrounding this space and the proximity to Stanford and Silicon Valley, Forward Networks was able to attract some of the leading talent from Cisco, Google, Facebook, Riverbed, Juniper, Apple and others to build a truly revolutionary platform.
SDN leading toward Intent-Based Networking
SDN in practice has focused primarily on controller-based architectures primarily driving OpenFlow-based network devices, with some newer efforts such as OpenDaylight targeting broader device support. The founders were amongst the early visionaries that created SDN, and helped move the industry towards a focus on software and automation. The basis of SDN is virtualization, which in its most simplistic form allows software to run separately from the underlying hardware. Virtualization has made cloud computing possible and now allows datacenters to dynamically provision IT resources exactly where they are needed. SDN promises to enable network technology innovation and versatility while reducing complexity and administrative overhead. Intent-based Networking and network verification promise to build on the vision of SDN to bring even greater levels of efficiency at scale and to better align network implementations with business objectives and policies.
Benefiting the Growth of Clients
Forward Networks customers have increased their business agility by accelerating network changes and increasing network availability. Operational costs are reduced by increasing operational efficiency and providing greater visibility and verification of network behavior across the organization. Configuration errors in the network are eliminated that would cause potential outage and security violations, de-risking the network and business.
Rising towards a Bright Future
Forward Networks expects to expand into multiple industries from its initial success in financial services, telecommunications, service and IT providers, and large manufacturing. With any new technology and approach, there is a certain degree of market education that has to take place for a new operational approach and new platform. They plan to continue innovating on the base platform and build on the main applications that it has today of Search, Verify, and Predict.