This Industry Viewpoint was contributed by David W Wang
With SD-WAN becoming more popular in the WAN infrastructure marketplace, IT and telecom consultants like myself are often asked such questions by enterprise clients as that there are dozens of SD-WAN vendors out there, which one would make my best choice?
Most consultants would answer it depends on the enterprise’s specific needs and situation. Then an enterprise may follow like "I know my needs, but how do I match a SD-WAN vendors’ strengths with my needs?"
Based on Gartner’s guide for SD-WAN, its definition requires that vendors meet four key requirements:
- SD-WAN solutions provide a lightweight replacement for traditional WAN routers, and are agnostic to WAN transport technologies (that is, they support MPLS, Internet, Long Term Evolution [LTE], etc.).
- Based on business and/or application policies, SD-WAN solutions allow for load sharing of traffic across multiple WAN connections in an efficient and dynamic fashion.
- SD-WAN solutions dramatically simplify the complexity associated with management, configuration and orchestration of WANs.
- SD-WAN solutions must provide secure VPNs, and have the ability to integrate additional network services and offload Internet-destined traffic closer to the edge of the network
Nowadays we see most SD-WAN vendors carry the capabilities and solutions associated along the guidelines above. What additional criteria or qualifications can be used for enterprises to scan and vet the SD-WAN landscape, so as to pin down the vendor in need?
We may draw some inspiration from the quarterly IHS Market Report which shows the right business focus makes a difference in the highly innovative and competitive SD-WAN market. Based on the report, the second quarter of 2017 brought in a total revenue of $78 million in SD-WAN market, indicating a robust increase of 33 percent compared to $58.7 million for the first quarter of this year.
According to this report, these vendors hold tight the top 3 seats in SD WAN sales: VeloCloud, Viptela, and Talari Networks. The only difference is for the first quarter of this year, Viptela was in the first place with $7.7 million revenue and VeloCloud as the second with $4.9 million, however by the second quarter VeloCloud surged to $24 million and grabbed away the first place, even though Viptela also grew to $9.2 million.
I think these sale results may allow us to further differentiate the SD-WAN vendors, because the market would favor certain vendors for a reason. We can label VeloCloud as a “Cloud Access Builder”; Viptela and Talari as “MPLS/Cisco Rivals” (Viptela now is acquired by Cisco); Versa Networks as a “Branch Networks Virtualizer”; Silver Peak and Riverbed as “Network Optimizing Doctors”; and Cisco’s iWAN as a “Transitional WAN Player”.
VeloCloud has been positioning itself as "the cloud-delivered SD-WAN company." which recently reached a new milestone with 50 Tier 1 and Tier 2 service provider partners, in addition to 1,000 enterprise customers for its SD-WAN platform. It looks like their strategic focus on cloud WAN access and architecture, which strikes head on a major pain point that most enterprises are facing today, is paying back.
Next gen cloud access and performance requires high bandwidth, low latency and jitter, cost effective, and secured, while the hub and spoke structured MPLS cannot handle such cloud access and performance well, Thus VeloCloud can come to the enterprises with an appealing pitch: We will re-align your network topology and directly link your company, especially the branch offices, to the cloud for virtual data center and SaaS applications, by providing a transport independent secure overlay enabling the use of broadband Internet with or without traditional MPLS, and a business-driven orchestration layer for automation and virtual services insertion.
This is not saying other vendors like Viptela, Talari, Silver Peak, Riverbed, and so on cannot link enterprise to the cloud. Surely they can and actually cloud direct access plays a key part of the SD-WAN portfolio they offer as well. But their business positioning on the cloud is relatively murky and the focus is not as sharp as VeloCloud’s towards cloud service integration.
In August, VeloCloud announced the expansion of its Security Technology Partner Program, allowing enterprises to choose and use security solution providers they’ve already worked with or favor. This reveals the goal that the firm is determined to establish a cloud powered SD-WAN ecosystem.
Viptela and Talari seem to plan on being an alternative or even replacement to the legacy MPLS, especially Cisco powered MPLS networks. No blame on them for such positioning because the original SD-WAN concept came up to disrupt the MPLS mainstream WAN solutions. But realistically we have to admit for an MPLS centric enterprise to adopt and transition to SD-WAN, it will take time to happen. Key factors like existing network architecture, sunk-in facilities, resource availability, organization impact, security and compliance considerations can all be barriers in the road.
Comparatively VeloCloud’s approach sends a cozier message to the enterprises about their very needed cloud access, as either a supplement or alternative to the legacy MPLS or DSL. This may make the enterprise internal decision-making process easier, for instance the IT Dept. can stress to their C-level more the SD-WAN’s benefits of direct and cost-effective cloud access, rather than hitting the sensitive MPLS re-shuffling topics.
Versa Networks, on the other hand, with a strong background of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), has been targeting the carrier and managed service providers (MSP) for simplifying the branch office WAN solutions for enterprises. For example, Versa can virtualize and centralize multiple network functions over one single “white box” as a router, a VPN concentrator, a stateful firewall, a network address translator, an intrusion prevention system, and other functions.
For vendors like Silver Peak and Riverbed, their network optimization background has some tradeoffs in today’s market. The pro is they can take advantage their existing customer base and convert the services to SD-WAN. The con is new clients may have questions or suspicions about if their SD-WAN solution is full-fledged and competitive enough or just some quick re-branding from their hardware based network optimization package. It might take some due marketing diligence to change their images from network flowing doctors to next-gen WAN infrastructure experts.
Furthermore, Cisco’s iWAN, although only a partial SD-WAN solution, can fit those enterprise okay who already installed many Cisco devices and are still in the middle of the service life cycle. iWAN can be taken as a spin-off from Cisco’s internal SDN and NFV reforms to simplify network devices, centralize the control, and become more cost effective. Ongoing basis, since now Cisco has bought over Viptela, that clearly indicates the ramp-up as iWAN’s replacement.
For enterprises who are thinking of SD-WAN transition and adoption, hope the review above offers some new angle or approach to check on the SD-WAN vendors in the market. The prediction is if VeloCloud continues reaping harvest from cloud access deliveries, Viptela and Talari do not slow down in taking shares away from the MPLS domain, and Versa keeps simplifying the branch network services, then some industry consolidations may be on the horizon in 2018, which may help enterprises to shorten their list of SD-WAN vendor selections.
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