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Building a better WAN

We live in an increasingly cloud world. More and more users are on the move, expecting to do more on any device that they take with them, be it a smartphone, tablet or laptop. So, their applications live in the cloud, ever-ready for users to take advantage of them.

This is also the case with business users. But, business apps are held to a higher standard of performance than consumer apps. Such is the case that MPLS or MultiProtocol Label Switching, the wide-area network or WAN connectivity technology which delivers business-level access to business users, is a market worth tens of billions of US dollars.

So, it’s very, very lucrative. Or at least it was.

Shayne Stubbs

Shayne Stubbs

Of late, there has been an overwhelming tide of applications moving to the cloud, and businesses are discovering that it’s creating friction. The WAN of today is simply not architected to handle the way businesses and their users expect to use apps.

Silver Peak’s VP of cloud service provider sales Shayne Stubbs observed, “A fundamental problem as businesses try to transfer apps to the cloud, is that the WAN is not flexible enough to leverage a lot of cloud initiatives.”

With demand for more agility, performance, access and security, software-defined WAN or SD-WAN, that is able to use any transport technology besides MPLS, is already expected to be a USD6 billion market by 2020.

With SD-WAN also, businesses are discovering broadband connectivity has become a viable option, and the potential cost savings that broadband usage has over MPLS, is giving more impetus to SD-WAN take up.

Ultimately, choice and freedom reigns with SD-WAN and Stubbs said, “Don’t be limited by/to one link… use all of it.”

Complexity, begone!

Silver Peak’s ASEAN regional director Tricia Png stated MPLS link provisioning can take up to two months, while SD-WAN connectivity is up within hours. This is an incredibly appealing proposition in today’s world of the distributed enterprise; now branch offices can be up and operational within shorter time frames.

But what constitutes an SD-WAN solution?

Stubbs opined that foundational requirements should include ability to do intelligent path selection and zero-touch provisioning – simply being able to work out-of-the-box using the transport technology of the business’ choice.

In contrast, legacy WAN infrastructure today is complex.

Stubbs described that infrastructure at the edge have individual management terminals. So, each router or customer premise equipment (CPE), has to be manually provisioned and this is labour-intensive work.

“As soon as I get done updating or patching every single router (in an organisation and all its branches), I find another vulnerability. So centralised management and automation is absolutely important for an SD-WAN solution to have.”

Png also opined that WAN optimisation shouldn’t be an afterthought, and should be one of the key criteria of SD-WAN solutions entering the market.

Visibility and control

So, more apps are moving to the cloud, and along with it more data as well. This makes controlling the flow of data more challenging.

Stubbs explained, “The enterprise’s visibility of apps stops at the firewall. But apps are in the cloud. With SD-WAN however, the virtual network stretches from edge to edge, stretching the perimeter so that our solution looks at all the data and not just a slice of it.”

Png added, “Silver Peak looks at URLs, so we see more names than numbers. There is deep packet learning of Layer 7 data and we log all of that data.

“With a dashboard (orchestrator) that shows data in all its different form, this means more visibility and more control.”

Besides control, visibility also offers opportunity in terms of telemetry data.  Stubbs explained, “Edge devices gives us opportunity to collect telemetry data and do interesting things like analytics.

“With big data, shouldn’t the network now be smart enough to best route users where they need to go, based on all the telemetry information… the self-driven network is kind of where we see this going.”

“There are also security use cases for this data, but they haven’t been invented yet,” he shared.

Business opportunity

Silver Peak which currently goes to market in 80 countries around the world is 100-percent channel-driven. Png shared that moving forward, as service providers accelerate the adoption of managed SD-WAN services based on the Silver Peak Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN solution, the service provider segment of our business is likely to grow faster than the enterprise segment and over time could represent a higher proportion of the company’s overall revenue.

One compelling business model with service providers for example is building ‘bridges’ between private data centres and the cloud. Stubbs said, “We need to build bridges to move apps, by creating a virtual high performance connection between the business user and wherever the application is on the cloud.

“For example Multi-Cloud Connect by NTT Communications bridges from an MPLS-based WAN into a Workday cloud.”  This is an enterprise-level connection with SD-WAN that leverages any transport to deliver high performance and secure access.

Silver Peak views the service provider segment as a strategic sales channel and in fact, works with them on RFPs when the latter goes-to-market.

Png shared, “SD-WAN will probably be offered as-a-service and probably will become just a feature of a service which they already offer like Multi-Cloud Connect.”

IDC predicted that 50-percent of SD-WAN customers would buy through service providers and Silver Peak estimated it would take the service provider industry one to two years to perform stringent tests and productise SD-WAN, before the technology’s take up becomes mainstream.

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