CTO Sessions: Apurva Mehta, Versa Networks

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? “I am really excited about the evolution of SASE. Things like security and networking being combined is genuinely exciting to me.”

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Versa Networks

Name: Apurva Mehta

Company: Versa Networks

Job title: Founder and CTO

Date started current role: December 2012

Location: California

Apurva Mehta has over two decades of experience leading complex development products creating billion-dollar revenue streams. Prior to Versa, he was CTO and Chief Architect for Juniper Networks Mobility Business Unit where he led and delivered the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) product line. Mehta was also the Chief Architect for the MX series, one of the most successful products in Juniper’s history and establishing the company as the market leader in Metro and Carrier Ethernet solutions. For his contributions, Mehta was awarded Juniper Network’s prestigious Founder’s Award for technical leadership.

What was your first job? After I graduated from university, I applied to lots of places and got a few rejections, but I eventually accepted an offer from a company which best matched my interests. That company was making X-Windows terminals. I developed all networking software for the X-Windows terminal including ethernet driver, entire TCP/IP stack, and Local Area Transport protocol.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, I can honestly say that I have always wanted to work in IT. I have always been fascinated by electronics, communications, and computers. I wanted to find out how all of it worked, so I absolutely knew this was a career I wanted to pursue. I am working and doing things that I’ve genuinely always wanted to do which I know is rare!

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I graduated with a Computer Science and Engineering degree from one of the Indian Institutes of Technology. At the time I graduated there were only about four or five of them in India, but now there are around 23 institutes which shows just how much the industry has grown since I graduated.

I was then offered eight scholarships to various schools in America and the competition was very tough, but I worked incredibly hard, and I chose the right college for me which was the University of Pittsburgh. I graduated with a Master’s in Computer Science and my thesis was on Sendmail, which is a internetwork email routing facility. However, I was involved in various college projects relating to RISC processors and would also read up on networking in my own time. So, I was constantly reading around the subject and learning about everything related to computing that wasn’t necessarily specific to my course.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. My education was in Computer Science and Computer Engineering. However, Computer Science has more avenues to express creativity compared to Computer Engineering because Computer Engineering is more capital intensive. I therefore gravitated more towards computer science and system design, learning about the marriage of hardware and software. I knew what I had to do to get to where I wanted to be.

One of the biggest jobs I have had was as the chief architect and CTO of Juniper Networks. I was responsible for creating and implementing the Juniper MX router which has been the most successful product in Juniper’s history. It is responsible for a significant portion of Juniper’s revenue.

What type of CTO are you? I truly believe that great ideas can come from anybody. As a CTO, it is really important to listen to what everyone has to say because we are constantly learning from those around us. It has to be egalitarian and if the idea makes sense and has value, then we will incorporate it into our products.

My strength as a CTO also lies in marrying and integrating different technologies. From the inception of Versa, we had a very versatile product which brought together both security and networking. And now we have Secure Access Service Edge, or SASE (pronounced sassy) which marries technologies such as Software Defined Wide-Area-Networks (SD-WAN) and security. As a CTO, I’ve been able to look at what technology the market needs and have now helped create something that is versatile, easy to use, reliable and provides a great application experience.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I am really excited about the evolution of SASE. Things like security and networking being combined is genuinely exciting to me. This is a highly connected world and so many businesses are dependent on network and security - if we have connection or security problems, all hell breaks loose!

SASE is in high demand, particularly during the pandemic. With more and more people working from home, networking and security are in high demand. SASE incorporates contextual security i.e., looking at who the user is, what applications various users are accessing as well as content of those applications, what they are authorised to do and whether their device is safe. SASE secures applications in the cloud as well as on-premises. Because so many of us are accessing cloud applications like Gmail, LinkedIn and Sales Force, there is a lot of traffic going directly from the laptop to the cloud and this data needs to be scrubbed for security. SASE has been a huge help to many businesses over the course of various national lockdowns. So, we all at Versa are excited to provide a technology which allows many businesses to continue their normal operations despite the pandemic.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? No. I see promise in most of the technologies I follow.

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? My focus for the last 12 months has been Versa SASE. I am proud of how we have rolled out the solution as well as all the benefits the solution has to offer. I am proud of the fact that, as a team, we made it cloud native and created it so that it provides SD-WAN also to the endpoints like Windows and Mac. I am very proud how together with the entire team we have married SD-WAN and Security including capabilities such as Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), Secure Web Gateway, CASB and DLP with very good performance, and single pane of management.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? At Versa, we emphasise customer experience, revenue growth as well as operational efficiency. Our customers are both service providers as well as enterprises. It is very important that customers find our solution easy to manage and they are able to reap lots of benefits from it. Our mission is to empower and enable service-providers and enterprises who are deploying Versa solutions. They should be able to offer their subscribers a richer user experience. We provide a completely different type of digital experience which is richer and leads to more customers for our customers.

Our customers need to find that the Versa solution results in cost savings. We bring down circuit costs as well as equipment cost since the Versa solution is hardware independent and can run on commodity hardware. The security and redundancy offered by our solution saves our customers lots of money from security breaches and network down-time. All our customers realise operational efficiency from Versa’ centralised provisioning and single-pane of management for both SD-WAN as well as security.

So, our customers are saving cost and realising operational efficiency with a more efficient solution and they are gaining more clients for themselves by providing a richer application experience.

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? In this time of extended pandemic, we are facilitating businesses and people to continue to do what is expected of them. We are helping people work remotely without comprising application experience, security, and always-on connectivity. The Versa SASE client running on endpoint devices offers SD-WAN Lite right from these endpoint devices. While working from home, we all are dealing with a lot of sensitive information. All this data from remote workers is scrubbed by the Versa SASE Gateways and optimally routed to their destinations for best application experience. The Versa SASE solution has really helped with all these issues and will continue to help, particularly as now the world is forever changed.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? We have always built things that are solving real pain points. For example, while working remotely, many of us are using applications like Salesforce, Office365, Teams, Zoom and many more. All this traffic must be routed optimally and information sharing must be done securely without exfiltration. Any solution must be more scalable, better, faster, cheaper and lead to a better customer experience, better operational experience, and more revenue growth. By understanding what your customers want and need, and offering superior products which meet those goals, any business is in a better position to meet their own goals.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? Not really - we create products and solutions that match our customers’ needs and solve real pain points. We ensure our product strategy, tech strategy and our business goals are all aligned.

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective tech strategy is one where we can meet our customers’ needs and build something that people genuinely want. It must be used and deployed within two to three years. It must offer solutions to pain points that customer are grappling with.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? CTO’s must look at the ‘big picture’ and make good calls. They also must be grounded, detail-oriented and make sure that their products  are indeed addressing real pain points more efficiently and within the right time frame. CTOs should constantly evaluate what is working and what isn’t working.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I would say I have two great achievements; creating Juniper MX which drives much of their revenue, and creating Versa SASE - I’m proud of how we’ve made it cloud native, elastic, easy to use, more scalable and cost competitive.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I wish I would have started a company several years ago. We were offered venture-capital two times before we started Versa. We could have implemented and delivered very good solutions that were needed back then.

What are you reading now? I am reading about Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and their applications in various fields. I am fascinated by these types of technologies and where it can be used, so I read about it all the time- it is my passion. I am constantly looking at how we can make security better, how we can protect user identity and Personal Identifiable Information (PII), how networking can be made more intuitive, predictable as well as self-healing and how can we do things better.

Most people don't know that I… enjoy sports and the outdoors. I like to swim, play cricket, football, and baseball.

In my spare time, I like to…Play sports and learn about new things including things that I did not get to learn in school.

Ask me to do anything but… Micromanaging people. I also do not like to attend endless meetings!