Embrane has unveiled Heleos, a product and strategy for virtualising network services.

The software-defined networking startup was founded in 2009 by former Cisco executives Dante Malagrinò and Marco Di Benedetto, Embrane's CTO. Malagrinò and Di Benedetto were early members of the Andiamo Systems team, a storage networking company funded and acquired by Cisco, as well as Nuova Systems, the company that provided Cisco with its unified computing technology.

At Cisco, Malagrinò helped develop and market Cisco's Data Center 3.0 strategy, which stressed virtualisation and a unified fabric. Di Benedetto architected the core elements of Cisco's NX-OS data centre operating system.

Other Embrane executives are from 3Com, HP, Juniper, Oracle, Alactel-Lucent, Array Networks and Palo Alto Networks. Embrane has raised $27 million since its founding.

The company's product is Heleos, a distributed software platform for virtualising Layer 4-7 services like load balancing, firewalling, VPNs and the like. It allows cloud service providers and enterprises to create cloud infrastructure-as-a-service models for their customers by enabling on-demand procurement, provisioning and configuration of these services.

New instances of network services can be up and running in less than two minutes, and capacity can be scaled up or down in less than a minute, Embrane says. This is in contrast to traditional legacy, hardware-based implementations that are rigid, costly, tend to be overprovisioned, have no programmability and limited multi-tenancy options, and come with complicated software licensing terms, Embrane says.

Available today are the Heleos Elastic Services Manager - the dashboard into the virtualised service environment - and load balancing and firewall/VPN distributed virtual appliances. The software runs on standard x86 hardware.

The software does not support the OpenFlow API for network virtualisation. Embrane views OpenFlow as a Layer 2-3 switch/router API versus a Layer 4-7 programmatic interface, company officials say.

Embrane's Heleos also supports "keyless" licensing in which customers only pay for what they sell or use based on usage, or on an annual subscription.

Competitors to Embrane's Heleos would be any vendor developing and marketing virtualised appliances and/or services on x86 hardware. Vyatta is an example of one such company, particularly on the firewall/VPN offering, Embrane officials say.

Investors in Embrane Lightspeed Venture Partners, NEA and North Bridge Venture Partners.