Sorting Through SD-WAN


SD-WAN has finally arrived. We’re not longer talking about it in terms of whether or not it is a thing that’s going to happen, but a thing that will happen provided the budgets are right. But while the concept of SD-WAN is certain, one must start to wonder about what’s going to happen to the providers of SD-WAN services.

Any Which Way You Can

I’ve written a lot about SDN and SD-WAN. SD-WAN is the best example of how SDN should be marketed to people. Instead of talking about features like APIs, orchestration, and programmability, you need to focus on the right hook. Do you see a food processor by talking about how many attachments it has? Or do you sell a Swiss Army knife by talking about all the crazy screwdrivers it holds? Or do you simply boil it down to “This thing makes your life easier”?

The most successful companies have made the “easier” pitch the way forward. Throwing a kitchen sink at people doesn’t make them buy a whole kitchen. But showing them how easy and automated you can make installation and management will sell boxes by the truckload. You have to appeal the opposite nature that SD-WAN was created to solve. WANs are hard, SD-WANs make them easy.

But that only works if your SD-WAN solution is easy in the first place. The biggest, most obvious target is Cisco IWAN. I will be the first to argue that the reason that Cisco hasn’t captured the SD-WAN market is because IWAN isn’t SD-WAN. It’s a series of existing technologies that were brought together to try and make and SD-WAN competitor. IWAN has all the technical credibility of a laboratory full of parts of amazing machines. What it lacks is any kind of ability to tie all that together easily.

IWAN is a moving target. Which platform should I use? Do I need this software to make it run correctly? How do I do zero-touch deployments? Or traffic control? How do I plug a 4G/LTE modem into the router? The answers to each of these questions involves typing commands or buying additional software features. That’s not the way to attack the complexity of WANs. In fact, it feeds into that complexity even more.

Cisco needs to look at a true SD-WAN technology. That likely means acquisition. Sure, it’s going to be a huge pain to integrate an acquisition with other components like APIC-EM, but given the lead that other competitors have right now, it’s time for Cisco to come up with a solution that knocks the socks off their longtime customers. Or face the very real possibility of not having longtime customers any longer.

Every Which Way But Loose

The first-generation providers of SD-WAN bounced onto the scene to pick up the pieces from IWAN. Names like Viptela, VeloCloud, CloudGenix, Versa Networks, and more. But, aside from all managing to build roughly the same platform with very similar features, they’ve hit a might big wall. They need to start making money in order for these gambles to pay off. Some have customers. Others are managing the migration into other services, like catering their offerings toward service providers. Still others are ripe acquisition targets for companies that lack an SD-WAN strategy, like HPE or Dell. I expect to see some fallout from the first generation providers consolidating this year.

The second generation providers, like Riverbed and Silver Peak, all have something in common. They are building on a business they’ve already proven. It’s no coincidence that both Riverbed and Silver Peak are the most well-known names in WAN optimization. How well known? Even major Cisco partners will argue that they sell these two “best of breed” offerings over Cisco’s own WAAS solution. Riverbed and Silver Peak have a definite advantage because they have a lot of existing customers that rely on WAN optimization. That market alone is going to net them a significant number of customers over the next few years. They can easily sell SD-WAN as the perfect addition to make WAN optimization even easier.

The third category of SD-WAN providers is the late comers. I still can’t believe it, but I’ve been reading about providers that aren’t traditional companies trying to get into the space. Talk about being the ninth horse in an eight horse race. Honestly, at this point you’re better off plowing your investment money into something else, like Internet of Things or Virtual Reality. There’s precious little room among the existing first generation providers and the second generation stalwarts. At best, all you can hope for is a quick exit. At worst, your “novel” technology will be snapped up for pennies after you’re bankrupt and liquidating everything but the standing desks.

Tom’s Take

Why am I excited about the arrival of SD-WAN? Because now I can finally stop talking about it! In all seriousness, when the boardroom starts talking about things that means it’s past the point of being a hobby project and now has become a real debate. SD-WAN is going to change one of the most irritating aspects of networking technology for us. I can remember trying to study for my CCNP and cramming all the DSL and T1 knowledge a person could fit into a brain in my head. Now, it’s all point-and-click and done. IPSec VPNs, traffic analytics, and application identification are so easy it’s scary. That’s the power of SD-WAN to me. Easy to use and easy to extend. I think that the landscape of providers of SD-WAN technologies is going to look vastly different by the end of 2017. But SD-WAN is going to be here for the long haul.

14 thoughts on “Sorting Through SD-WAN

  1. One of the big problems with SD-WAN right now is that sales people don’t seem to understand it very well. I frequently work with a WAN vendor who recently started pushing VeloCloud. The main sales pitch was that they could guarantee QoS over any type of Internet connection. When I asked about how this would work, all I got was blank stares. What are the minimum requirements of the underlying Internet connection? They made it sound like they could guarantee not just QoS but also low latency over satellite connections, which of course is absurd.

    They also promised automatic failover between multiple Internet connnections – but again couldn’t explain how that is different from what low-end dual-WAN routers have been offering for years.

    Can they offer QoS even if the same Internet line also carries non-SD-WAN traffic, or does the SD-WAN need to completely take over the Internet connection? Again, no answer.

    Pushing SD-WAN into inappropriate use cases without understanding it may well end up giving a perfectly good technology a bad name.

    • Give Meriplex Communications a call to discuss your business use case for SD-WAN. We can explain how the technology works and clearly communicate the best business use cases for the technology. We can also demo the solution for you and explain key differences between the “first generation” SD-WAN companies and the more traditional companies like Cisco, Meraki, and Silver Peak.

      • You misunderstood me. If I have a use case for SD-WAN, I can find out whom to call. But I was talking about scenarios where the customer wasn’t looking for SD-WAN, had never heard the term, and was looking simply to connect their business to the Internet. When the sales person then proposes SD-WAN and makes promises that are impossible to keep, that’s where SD-WAN gets a bad reputation.

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  5. Don’t count out Cisco’s MX SD-WAN solution which has seen tremendous growth over the past year and is quickly becoming Cisco’s leading SD-WAN offering. Next-gen security via SourceFire/AMP + SD-WAN in one cloud-managed box.

  6. I would also include on this list the SD-WAN-as-a-Service providers like TELoIP. TELoIP has 18 patents in hand and more pending and have been delivering software-defined access networks since 2008. For those who have the questions posed by Kevin Keane above, ask our team, they have the answers. If you want more information check out our latest podcast located at

    • Meraki is a great solution LAN, Wireless, and firewall, but it’s still not a true SD-WAN solution. For example it doesn’t perform any link remediation to correct WAN issues such as packet loss and jitter.

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  8. Lets first clarify one thing…”Names like Viptela, VeloCloud, CloudGenix, Versa Networks”. These folks were no where near the first companies doing “SDWAN” not by years. Talari Networks introduced what is now SDWAN back in 2007 with their APN technology and hold over 15 patents related to it.

    I would also like to pose a question to the statement of “Link re-mediation to correct for loss and jitter”? Why attempt to re-mediate loss with FEC when you can simply transport the next packet in a flow on a better preforming path?…..and do this for every packet on a per packet basis? Intelligent SDWAN technologies steer around problematic links in milliseconds. They dont try to use FEC in a vain attempt to make a crappy link seem better.

    Lets not even get started on QoS as there are maybe only 4 players in the SDWAN space that can even come close and only 2 of them can provide last mile ingress QoS. Then there is is the notion of QoS on internet paths and of those 4 players there are the same 2 that can ensure reliable delivery of all traffic transported over the internet. Note I didn’t say mark packets over the internet I said ensure reliable delivery.

    And for the record…I don’t think anyone….not even Meraki would consider Meraki a true enterprise capable SDWAN solution. It’s as basic as basic gets.

    • Dave,

      Thanks for leaving the comment. I think I’ll add Talari to my list of “people who were doing SD-WAN before it was a thing” category. Note that the names that I listed off were companies that were founded around the time that SD-WAN became a popular term to describe the idea of creating WAN connectivity using SDN ideas. There are many, many companies that I’ve talked to recently that have informed me that they were doing SD-WAN at least six years before the product category existed. I need to make sure and keep my records up-to-date.

      I’d love for someone from Talari to reach out to me and give me an overview about their solution and what makes it unique in these regards. I notice on their website that the do mention a lot about QoS and assured delivery for packets with intelligent, millisecond decision times. This sounds like a good solution that I’d like to learn more about. Perhaps a Senior Solutions Architect can reach out to me via my contact form and we can set something up?

  9. Actually Meraki can do this now – based on the metrics you define per application (if there is a VPN tunnel between your branch and HQ). Meraki also supports BGP (currently beta). What is more troubling to me is the lack of support for BFD and fast convergence between the hub side and WAN edge at the HQ location. In my opinion, fast convergence (BFD, etc) is a REQUIREMENT at points in the network were many sites are aggregated.

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