When Kelly Ahuja became president and CEO of SD-WAN firm Versa Networks in 2016, he had worked in the networking industry for 27 years, having started his career at Telesat Canada in 1989. Back then the Berlin Wall still stood and the ability to communicate across borders wasn’t always assured.
Today, almost three decades later, the landscape is almost unrecognizable. Not only is the world more connected – and Berlin united – but networks are so advanced that the cloud is almost ubiquitous. Hybrid clouds are the new frontier, piling value into into a market set to be worth $91.74 billion by 2021.
Ahuja has seen it all – not least as an 18-year employee of Cisco, where he was last SVP of the company’s service provider arm. Making the leap from a $48bn revenue, 74,000-staff tech giant to a high-tech upstart that had only been open since 2012 may not have been easy. But it has given Ahuja a chance to blend corporate management with startup agility. The results are clear to see.
Since Versa’s foundation it has won $43.4m in funding and hired 160 people while becoming a key player in the SD-WAN and SD-security markets. As more companies streamline their digital transformation, Ahuja and his team are on hand to make sure things are secure.
“The multi-cloud transition is what’s driving this whole market,” Ahuja tells Red Herring. “The remote office has now gone mobile, and those applications are not in one place bur can be in multiple places.” VPNs were one de rigeur, he adds. Today, though, corporations run their networks on the Web. That places data in ever more vulnerable spots.
“The security is not an add-on,” adds Ahuja. “You need multi layer security – all of that visibility – to be able to secure across multiple layers.”
Thankfully for Versa, a drive to provide that security comes directly from Ahuja. Even in boyhood his passion was networking: “My curiousity even ran to how the telephone worked, and I worked for a service provider in my summertimes at college (in Calgary, Canada)…There’s this bird in orbit you’ve gotta point to. How does this work, and how can I get into it?”
Telesat handed Ahuja his first role, before it was bought by AT&T. Then came three years at Stratacom in San Jose, CA, before he switched to Cisco – a company he still thinks is “great.
“I feel like I was a teenager went I went in and now I’m an adult,” says Ahuja. “But it’s a large company with much more process and rigor about how things happen.” Joining Versa, the first thing Ahuja noticed was the number of tasks he had.
“At first we did anything and everything that happened,” he says. “You had to roll up your sleeves and do things.” When the company needed a shift there were no internal reviews and processes: it was simply done. “It’s been a great adjustment for me because I’m naturally high-strung,” he adds. “Normally I wake up early and go to bed late. I’m never idle. It’s been great for me to come back to a smallish company environment.”
That is handy in a market that never stops pushing boundaries. Software-defined networking may still be at an early stage but it is being adopted quickly. The mass market is coming. 2018, Ahuja says, “will be a year of deployment and scale.”
Large companies are beginning huge rollouts of this networking technology. One such firm is Capital One, whose hybrid approach to SD-WAN deployment has led the finance pack. It chose Versa Networks with which to work – a fact Ahuja credits to his company’s “simplicity, speed and scale.”
Other brands Versa works with include CenturyLink, Verizon, VergX and Comcast Business. They are enamored by Versa’s product, but also its client relations, which Ahuja instills in each of his employees.
“To be a strong leader you have to lay out a strong vision, have a strategy and an execution,” he says. Transparency, communication and a constant focus on the client are paramount. It goes for employee relations too: “You can’t expect respect, you have to give it. It’s important for everyone to be humble, grounded and respect everyone no matter who they are.”
By energizing his clients and team Ahuja can focus on his other key strategy: Getting Stuff Done. Fun and a good working balance are vital. But so is the ability to execute constantly. With that in mind, and with a holistic approach to a new market that is gathering pace, Versa Networks is poised to pounce on timing in the market to “drive a tremendous amount of growth.”
It is growth that will fuel what Ahuja predicts will be a “tremendous year” for Versa. “We have an expanding team, offices, location, marketing: all functions are growing.” With Ahuja’s incredible knowledge of the market, and different management styles, he is the perfect person to lead that charge.