One of the more interesting recent trends in the network space has been around software defined WAN (SDWAN). While I’ll admit I first didn’t give it much attention, I’ve since given it a harder look and see quite a bit of promise in the technology. The WAN is a part of the network that, until recently, hasn’t received much attention particularly as it relates to SDN. SDN in the enterprise space seems mostly focused on the data center since that’s where the network always seems to be the most complicated. The unfortunate outcome of that mindset is that while we focus on the data center network, technologies like SDWAN appear and don’t always get the attention they deserve. I think the primary reason for this is that many of us have WANs that we think are ‘working just fine’. And while that may be the case, I think SDWAN has the potential to significantly reduce costs, improve WAN performance, and increase network agility.
One of the vendors in this market that I’ve recently had the chance to hear about is Silver Peak. Silver Peak has been around for quite some time and is well known in the WAN optimization space. In the past year Silver Peak has released it’s SDWAN product called Unity EdgeConnect. The solution also includes Unity Orchestrator to manage your SDWAN endpoints and Unity Boost which adds WAN optimization to the endpoints. Let’s talk a little bit about each piece of the solution.
The heart and soul of the solution lives in the EdgeConnect appliances. These are your SDWAN endpoints and terminate all of the overlay network tunnels on either side of your WAN. What I found the most interesting about EdgeConnect was the pricing model. While traditionally we’re used to spending a lot upfront for remote site hardware, Silver Peak obviously isn’t looking to make a lot of money on hardware margin with the appliances being very reasonably priced. There’s also a virtual edition allowing you to use your own hardware if you prefer. The licensing model is simple at $199 per site regardless of bandwidth and what size hardware appliance you deploy. And while not unique in this space, the EdgeConnect appliances support zero touch provisioning and are managed centrally from the Unity Orchestrator.
The central point of control for Silver Peak’s SDWAN is the Unity Orchestrator. In another interesting move, Silver Peak makes this software free with any Unity deployment. The controller allows for single screen administration of your entire SDWAN and offers visibility into key metrics for monitoring and troubleshooting. This also includes heat map like functionality to give a high level overview of how certain pieces of the WAN are performing. This allows you to quickly isolate issues based on sites and regions which is key when considering that a major use case for SDWAN is using internet based circuits. The orchestrator is also where you define what Silver Peak calls ‘business intent policies’ that define how certain application traffic is handled as it traverses the WAN.
The last optional component of the solution is Unity Boost. Boost adds Silver Peak’s well known WAN optimization features to the solution. And just like the two other components, the pricing on this piece is also innovative. Boost is purchased ‘by the bit’. That is, you can buy a pool of WAN optimization capacity and allocate it as you see fit across your SDWAN. This opens up some interesting uses cases given that WAN optimization is usually an all or nothing proposition. Traditional WAN optimization was either at the site or not at the site. Many times it wasn’t always needed and was typically an expensive solution to have if not required. In this model you can dole it out as needed. One of your WAN sites starts having connectivity issues? Do you have a large migration to handle that could benefit from one of the many WAN optimization features? Now you can allocate it as you see fit.
While you can use SDWAN over any type of circuit, I believe the real gain with SDWAN is had when using it in conjunction with internet based circuits. That being said, the focus of any SDWAN solution should be around making non-SLA driven circuit types (the internet) act more like a dedicated private link. Silver Peak has a variety of features that all fall into the category of path conditioning…
Adaptive forward error correction (FEC) – FEC is a means to rebuild lost packets on the far side of a link which helps with the delay induced by having to resend lost packets. The solution uses parity packets sent along with the real data that can be used to rebuild any packets that get lost in transit. The feature scales dynamically minimizing parity packet overhead when it’s not required.
Real-time Packet Order Correction – Ensures that packets are delivered in order on either side of the link by resequencing packets that arrive out of order. This can be a two way street as waiting for out of order packets can often cause other problems. However, as with all of these features, timeout settings can be configured to meet your needs.
Tunnel bonding and failover – This is what allows you to combine multiple physical circuits into one or many logical circuits. Having the ability to abstract the physical network is one of the main features that allows you to implement business intent policies across the WAN.
Silver Peak is not alone in the SDWAN space, but I believe they are unique in many of their features and their pricing model. If you’re interested in hearing more about their products and SDWAN solutions I’d suggest you check out these videos…