Networking Software Defined WAN (SD-WAN)
4 minute read

The Ever-changing Landscape of SD-WAN

The ever-changing landscape of SD-WAN has evolved again with Cisco’s intent to acquire Viptela. What does this mean for Cisco’s SD-WAN solutions? How should companies evaluate the current offerings in the market?

Learn about the four features all SD-WAN solutions should include.

In the past few years new software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) companies have popped up, spun off, rebranded and consolidated. These companies identify as software development companies focusing on traditional campus branch networking, creating fierce competition and fast innovation. Many analysts predict future consolidation of SD-WAN vendors between 2015-2020. This trend is highlighted by Riverbed’s purchase of Ocedo in late 2016 and Cisco System's aquisition of Viptela for $610 million.

This acquisition now broadens the Cisco SD-WAN portfolio to include Cisco IWAN, Viptela and Meraki SD-WAN. How will Cisco integrate these different portfolios to be an even stronger force in the SD-WAN market? Viptela’s graphical user interface (GUI) at a minimum seems to be one avenue that could simplify Cisco’s IWAN solution.

If you are familiar with SD-WAN, expectations have grown to much more than just a router with a GUI. To be successful, SD-WAN vendors must evolve into being multi-service, for example SD-WAN + SD-Security, SD-WAN + WAN optimization, etc. SD-WAN continues to set the bar higher than traditional router solutions.

When comparing SD-WAN vendors, let’s over simplify for a second and let “application performance” include all the capabilities you need to identify an application, optimize an application flow, intelligently detect an impairment impacting the application, and then take an action to improve the application performance despite the impairment. In today’s application-centric world, traditional router based solutions are not always application aware. In some cases, traditional WAN solutions are unable to detect a network impairment that impacts application performance outside of circuit down situations.

Today SD-WAN solutions must have four capabilities

  1. Transport agnostic WAN connectivity – providing business value to organizations by letting them adopt and easily switch service providers among MPLS, Internet, broadband, LTE and others.
  2. Business application steering – providing controls to organizations to identify applications and specify paths to achieve business defined SLAs.
  3. Security – enabling secure transport across unsecure WAN connectivity as well as providing optimized traffic handling, for example with firewalls to provide direct Internet access (DIA) at the branch office, rather than backhauling traffic to centralized internet gateways which consumes valuable WAN bandwidth.
  4. Simplicity– perhaps the most important capability is to be able to simplify the deployment and operations of an SD-WAN solution, mainly through the addition of software-defined capabilities via a controller and orchestration layer

Transport-agnostic WAN connectivity and security are solved at the same time by most SD-WAN solutions. Business application steering is where some of the biggest innovations are observed and where customers can notice the greatest differentiation, like techniques to detect brownout situations and reduced application impact.  Simplicity comes down to ease of use utilizing the controller and orchestration layer. All SD-WAN solutions achieve these four capabilities, but with very different strategies. Aligning these strategies to a customer’s environment and requirements are key.

Top four questions when evaluating SD-WAN solutions

In WWT’s Advanced Technology Center (ATC) the top four customer requests we hear when evaluating an SD-WAN solution are:

  • How simple is the solution to manage?
  • How does it change operational behaviors today?
  • How is “application performance” achieved?
  • How would I implement an SD-WAN solution into my environment and can I phase the rollouts?

To address these key customer questions it is important to understand the capabilities of the solutions in the market and how they fit in each unique use case. As the vendor landscape continues to shape and evolve in the coming months it will be key to have a pulse on the changing landscape and the capabilities in the market. WWT workshops and lab services can help navigate the many solutions in the market. Both of these engagements help validate, align and test solutions with customers in a neutral environment.