ITDigest’s Interview With Shahzad Ali, Vice President, Solutions Architecture, Aviatrix

Shahzad Ali

“In today’s world, where AI generates new content and ideas every second, the pace of innovation is incredibly fast. As a leader, it’s crucial that you embrace new and better technology even if you had to eliminate the old tech you championed earlier.”

Can you tell us about your professional background?

My passion lies in taking products and ideas from conception to market success. I am obsessed with helping customers overcome their business challenges by leveraging innovative ideas and cutting-edge technologies. This passion led me to join Cisco in 2002, where I spent nearly 13 years serving in diverse roles, including as a lead in Technical Marketing, Solutions Engineering, and Product Management teams. During my tenure at Cisco, I had the amazing opportunity to enhance the Cisco Certified Internetworking Engineer (CCIE) Routing and Switching track, which truly enriched my experience.

As the industry shifted from hardware-based networks to Software Defined Network (SDN), I pursued my obsession to support customers and joined the VMware SDN team. At VMware, I had the privilege of leading the Network and Security (NSX) Solutions Architecture team, where we designed and deployed networking and security solutions for some of the largest enterprises on the planet.

Understanding the gradual adoption process of new technologies like SDN, I realized the importance of bridging the skill gap and educating the community. In response, I played a pivotal role in creating the VCDX-NV (VMware Certified Design Expert for Network Virtualization) program at VMware. Additionally, I authored a book published by VMware Press that delves into the intricacies of SDN based Private Cloud Designs. View here.

Now, I am proud to be a part of Aviatrix, where we are witnessing the transformation of networking from on-premises to the public cloud. I am leading the team of Solutions Architects at Aviatrix, which allows me to continue pursuing my passion of tackling business challenges and making customers successful in their cloud adoption journey.

What does your role as Vice President of Solutions Architecture entail?  

As the VP of Solutions Architecture at Aviatrix, I am dedicated to ensuring the success of our customers as they design and deploy their cloud networking and security solutions. Our team works closely with our customers, building strong relationships and simplifying the adoption of secure cloud networking.

In my role, I provide guidance, expertise, and mentorship to our Solutions Architects (SAs), enabling them to stay ahead of the curve in public cloud networking. This technical leadership helps facilitate effective interactions with our customers. By actively participating in a customer’s cloud adoption journey, we ensure that they are well-informed and able to make strategic decisions.

Our team also works with our account managers and sales engineers to develop customized solutions that may involve third-party solutions. Our mission is clear – we aim to assist our customers without any bias towards specific technologies. As trusted partners and advocates for their success, we strive to meet and exceed their expectations.

Customer feedback is invaluable to us; and we foster a culture of continuous improvement. I take personal responsibility for communicating customer feedback to our marketing, product management and R&D leaders.

Soon after I joined Aviatrix, I immediately recognized the need to educate the masses about this new way of designing and implementing secure networking in the cloud. To address the industry-wide challenge, I played leading role in creating the Aviatrix Certified Engineer (ACE) program. Leveraging the expertise of our Solutions Architects, the ACE program bridges skill gap challenges by providing comprehensive education and guidance for navigating complex cloud networking. Our goal is to empower professionals to excel and drive organizational success.

We are leveraging extensive experience of our SAs in designing and deploying secure cloud networking solutions. This program successfully bridges the skill gap challenges faced by the entire industry. We understood the need to train and educate the existing talent pool, while also empowering a new generation of engineers and architects to adapt to the cloud-based networking paradigm. We’re proud of the program’s impact in bridging the skill gap and shaping the future of cloud networking talent.

How does Aviatrix differentiate itself from other companies in the same space?

Aviatrix stands out in the market as a game-changer, innovator, and leader in multicloud networking and security. Aviatrix has experienced market validation and continues to lead the way in creating solutions that meet the evolving needs od our customers.

Another differentiator is our commitment to customer satisfaction and support. Aviatrix’s top leadership emphasizes a culture of empathy and support for customers, going above and beyond to troubleshoot and resolve network issues – even those not directly caused by Aviatrix deployment. This customer-centric approach sets Aviatrix apart from its competitors and demonstrates its dedication to ensuring customer success.

One significant aspect is the Aviatrix ACE program. This is industry’s first certification program focusing on multilcoud networking and security technology. It provides training and education on cloud and multicloud networking, empowering engineers to implement secure networking across various public clouds. The foundation of this program lies in providing comprehensive enablement and education without any boundaries. By investing heavily in the ACE program, Aviatrix aims to address the industry-wide skill gap challenges and equip professionals with the knowledge and expertise needed to have a successful career and successful network design for mission critical business workloads.

Aviatrix also believes in giving back to the community. We provide an abundance of ACE trainings and other complementary programs such as the Altitude PodcastWebinarsCloud Networking Community, our newly launched Office Hours, are just some of the attributes truly set us apart in the industry. And last but not the least, Aviatrix firmly believe that empowering employees directly correlates with customer satisfaction. At Aviatrix, our focus is not solely on generating revenue and profit, but rather on cultivating a strong employee culture, customer success mindset and building exceptional solutions. Our core values are rooted in openness and inclusivity, and we have made significant investments in community development programs.

As security in the cloud spins up a lot of challenges for companies, especially if a company is using multiple clouds, how does Aviatrix help them proactively secure their cloud environments?

You’ve raised an important concern about cloud security, particularly when it comes to managing multiple cloud environments. At Aviatrix, we understand that security in the cloud can present significant challenges for companies. That’s why we have developed robust and distributed solutions to help organizations proactively secure their cloud environments with a zero-trust approach.

We provide a cloud-native network security platform that offers advanced features and capabilities to address the unique security requirements of multicloud environments. By leveraging Aviatrix, companies can simplify their security operations, regardless of the cloud provider they are using. Aviatrix enables organizations to establish a secure network architecture, implement granular security policies, and gain deep visibility into their cloud environments. With our solution, you can create secure connectivity between multiple clouds, on-premises infrastructure, and remote locations, allowing for secure data transfer and seamless communication across your entire network. In addition to network security, Aviatrix also offers built-in encryption and data protection features. By encrypting sensitive data at rest and in transit, you can ensure the confidentiality and integrity of your information. Our solution integrates with leading security technologies, enabling you to leverage best-of-breed solutions for threat detection and prevention.

Aviatrix’s vision is to make each day more secure, visible, and simple than the day before. This is no small feat, but it’s inspiring to see that Aviatrix is up for the challenge. Aviatrix’s focus on disruption and innovation is exactly what is needed to advance the future of cloud security. By listening to the needs of customers who are shaping the industry, Aviatrix is able to develop innovative solutions that address the unique challenges of today’s digital enterprises.

It’s clear that forward-looking companies using multiple clouds have unique security needs, and Aviatrix is dedicated to providing them with the solutions they need to succeed. By offering a technology that is cloud agnostic and distributed, Aviatrix provides a consistent and streamlined approach to security management, regardless of the network environment.

Customers are impressed by Aviatrix’s dedication to enhancing visibility and manageability across distributed cloud environments. By allowing customers to focus on delivering value-added services while ensuring the underlying network is secure and functioning properly, Aviatrix is enabling companies to reach new heights of success.

Overall, I believe that Aviatrix’s approach to innovation, disruption, and customer-focused solutions sets it apart from competitors in the cloud security space. To assist our customers with their cloud security journey, we provide comprehensive documentation, training, and support through our ACE program.

What key considerations should enterprises consider when transitioning to the cloud?

Transitioning to the cloud is a complex endeavor that varies from one customer to another. It entails not only migration and application modernization but encompasses the networking and security modernization as well. A well-defined strategy is crucial for a successful cloud transition. There’s no magic wand for this process, as it requires careful planning, investment from the organization and its leaders, and the motivation of individuals involved. It’s important to approach this transition properly, ensuring that all foundational blocks and architecture are in place. Architecture plays a crucial role with regards to consistency and visibility.

One of the key considerations in cloud transition is architecture. At Aviatrix, we recognized early on that the cloud presents a very flat environment, lacking boundaries and segmentation. To address this challenge, I, with the help of few Aviatrix professionals, developed the Multicloud Network Architecture (MCNA). MCNA is the industry’s first layered architecture for cloud designs.

Security is a critical aspect that should be built into the cloud journey from the start, not treated as an afterthought. While cloud providers operate under a shared responsibility model, it’s essential for organizations to take ownership of their security. However, extending the cloud operating model to on-premises locations, including data centers, colocation facilities, edge, and branch locations, is equally important considering the high stakes involved.

Visibility poses another challenge when transitioning to public cloud services. Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) manage shared infrastructures supporting countless customers, making it difficult for them to provide the level of visibility required by enterprises. Aviatrix steps in to bridge this gap, offering solutions that help organizations gain the necessary visibility and control over their cloud environments.

While SaaS for networking and security may be acceptable for small customers or projects, larger organizations typically prefer to maintain ownership of their data. Data is a valuable asset, and entrusting it to an untrusted SaaS provider, claiming to provide networking, is not a viable option for business-critical applications.

Education plays a critical role in supporting cloud adoption. Leading cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform invest heavily in training and educating users, covering a broad range of topics. Aviatrix differentiates itself by focusing on enabling and training networking and security professionals, engineers, and architects. This specialized approach gives Aviatrix an edge in providing comprehensive expertise in these areas.

For further insights into the skill gap shortage topic, I encourage you to watch our webinar on the subject: Webinar: Addressing the Skill Gap Shortage in Cloud Networking.

Undoubtedly, there is a need for a community dedicated to addressing cloud networking challenges. Considering all the points discussed, it is imperative to build a strategy that takes these considerations into account for a smooth and successful transition to the cloud. In this journey to the cloud, having a trusted partner like Aviatrix is invaluable. We have a proven track record of assisting numerous enterprises across various verticals and segments, including esteemed organizations such as Choice Hotels, Audi, Splunk, and Heineken.

How does Aviatrix address the challenge of bridging the gap caused by the shortage of qualified cloud networking professionals, including architects, engineers, and technical staff?

Aviatrix is a trailblazer in the industry, tirelessly addressing the challenge of bridging the gap for almost a decade. Our mission is clear: to empower our customers’ success by providing simplified products and solutions that navigate the complex landscape of cloud networking and security.

To fulfill this mission, Aviatrix offers a range of programs, with a strong emphasis on training and enablement through our ACE Program. This comprehensive program empowers both enterprises and individuals to understand and build expertise in cloud and multicloud networking technology. With this knowledge, they can design and implement future-proof cloud networking architectures and at the same time advance their careers by becoming cloud networking subject matter experts.

We recognize the increasing demand for skilled cloud networking professionals and the talent shortage in the industry. That’s why we offer training options specifically tailored to upskill and empower individuals in the realm of cloud networking.

But our efforts don’t stop at training alone. Aviatrix goes above and beyond, providing a plethora of additional programs such as our Altitude Podcast, Community Forum, Webinars, and Thought Leadership sessions. These initiatives are designed to accelerate learning and provide a platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing.

As responsible corporate citizens, we understand the industry’s need for skilled professionals. That’s why Aviatrix invests heavily in training the masses, offering our training and certification programs free of charge to the majority of participants. We even offer Aviatrix-agnostic training, where individuals can learn about cloud, multicloud, and edge networking and security concepts. This equips them with the necessary skills to excel and find new opportunities in the job market.

By harnessing the power of Aviatrix’s secure cloud networking products, solutions, networking community forum, and ACE training, organizations can effortlessly overcome the challenges created by the shortage of qualified professionals. This allows them to achieve successful implementation and efficient management of their cloud networking environments.

You’ve worked at very large networking companies, what are the advantages of working at a startup and at Aviatrix?

The desire to learn and innovate should always remain alive within us. It is this thirst for knowledge and passion to make an impact that propels us forward in our careers and personal lives.

Working in a startup environment, particularly at Aviatrix, has been a game-changer for my career. The opportunities for learning and professional development have been nothing short of extraordinary. In fact, I can confidently say that my career growth and skillset have grown exponentially during my time at Aviatrix.

There are so many advantages, but for brevity sake, here are a few:

  • Impact and Influence: Individuals get the opportunity to make a significant impact and contribute to the industry’s growth and success from day one. With smaller teams and a flatter organizational structure, employees often have more opportunities to influence decisions and shape the future.
  • Fast-Pace of Innovation: Startups are known for their fast-paced and dynamic environments, providing employees with ample opportunities to learn and grow their skill set. With diverse and challenging responsibilities, individuals can gain experience in various areas of the business and expand their expertise.
  • Ownership and Diversity: Compared to large corporations, in my view, startups offer employees a greater sense of ownership and autonomy over their work. This entrepreneurial mindset allows for more creativity and innovation. The ability to take ownership of projects from ideation to execution is something you could never experience in a large corporate environment.
  • Learning from Industry Leaders: You get a chance to work closely with top leaders in the field. This is an opportunity that cannot be bought. I’ve personally gained a unique perspective on decision-making processes, which has allowed me to develop a deep understanding of leadership from a different point of view.

Working in a startup could become your hallmark of success. It grants access to invaluable knowledge, expertise, and insights that contributes to personal growth and development as a leader.

Aviatrix appointed former Splunk CEO Doug Merritt last summer. What excites you most about having him at the helm?

Aviatrix appointing former Splunk CEO Doug Merritt was a significant move for the entire networking industry, not just Aviatrix. Merritt brings a wealth of experience and expertise, which is exciting for Aviatrix and the entire cloud networking segment growth and success. There are many aspects that excites me including his proven track record of high-class leadership, adopting cutting-edge innovation, and focus on customer success.

During his tenure at Splunk, he played a pivotal role in transforming the company into a market leader and driving its expansion into new markets and industries. His strategic vision and leadership skills will undoubtedly be instrumental in guiding Aviatrix through its next phase of growth.

His appointment as CEO also signals confidence in the company’s potential and its commitment to becoming a major player in the cloud networking space. Aviatrix has already established itself as a leader in secure cloud networking, and with him at the helm, there is a clear indication of the company’s ambition to further solidify its position and drive innovation in the industry.

It is also exciting to see his focus on making learning and training part of the overall customer success plan. While at Splunk, Merritt emphasized the importance of continuous learning and development for customers, partners, and employees. He recognized the value of well-trained professionals in driving customer success and advancing technologies. As head of the Solutions Architecture team, I am really excited that Merritt is focusing and scaling the ACE Program, demonstrating his passion to empowering individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

What advice would you give someone who aspires to be a leader in secure cloud networking?

Embracing change and leading by example is key in the age we live in. I understand that change may seem easier said than done, but it is essential to become leader. Throughout your journey, it’s important to remember that you may encounter resistance from people and partners. It is natural to face challenges and carry a heavy workload, and at times, investments may not yield immediate returns.

In the secure cloud networking segment, legacy hardware vendors and channel partners may even try to hinder your progress. However, it’s crucial to stay steadfast in your belief in the disruptive ideas. If you know that these ideas benefit the community and industry, you can be confident that they will also benefit customers and enterprises.

I have witnessed numerous companies produce exceptional innovation only to become complacent afterward. Think beyond the confines of convention. Continuous innovation opens doors to success. In today’s world, where AI generates new content and ideas every second, the pace of innovation is incredibly fast. As a leader, it’s crucial that you embrace new and better technology even if you had to eliminate the old tech you championed earlier. Adopt a no technology religion policy, be willing to discard outdated innovations in favor of new and more impactful solutions. Additionally, invest in your employees because they are the backbone of your organization. By nurturing and empowering them, you set the stage for significant dividends in the future. By embodying these principles, you will not only be seen as a true leader but also drive your organization towards success in this ever-evolving business landscape.

Is there anything that you’re currently reading, or any favorite books, that you’d recommend?

I believe that true leadership stems from humility and empathy. Despite the belief that toughness and relentlessness are necessary for success, I hold the belief that caring for those under your charge is crucial for effective leadership. I make it a priority to improve myself and my leadership abilities each day. To aid in this pursuit, I have developed a habit of reading books that focus on these principles. One book that has resonated with me is “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek. In addition to reading books, I also try to stay up to date by reading articles on websites such as Harvard Business Review (HBR). I find value in exploring topics such as leadership, decision making, problem solving, customer experience, and innovation. By continually educating myself through observation, books, and articles, I strive to become a better leader and person overall.

Shahzad Ali is vice president of solutions architecture at Aviatrix, a leader in Secure Cloud Networking, and an expert on networking and security equipped with deep knowledge in both private and public clouds. He is also a co-founder and content lead for the Aviatrix Certified Engineer (ACE) Program, the industry’s first and only multicloud networking and security certification. Shahzad previously led the Networking and Security Solutions Architecture team at VMware, where his team played a key role growing VMware’s NSX business. Prior to that, he spent over a decade in technical and leadership roles at Cisco Systems. Shahzad often speaks at industry conferences and hosts his own YouTube Channel called netJoints.

Aviatrix Trusted by more than 500 of the world’s most innovative companies, Aviatrix empowers businesses to accelerate innovation, minimize downtime, and gain control of IT costs. Aviatrix delivers an enterprise-grade secure cloud network, backbone, and edge for mission-critical applications by creating a simplified and consistent networking architecture in and across cloud service providers. Combined with the Aviatrix Certified Engineer (ACE) Program, the industry’s first and only multicloud networking certification, Aviatrix helps businesses to achieve their digital transformation goals.