Asia-Pacific organisations are warming up to software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN), with many turning to the technology to support increasingly cloud-based workloads and as a means to reduce their reliance on older multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) connectivity links.
That was the view of Ian Whiting, president of global field operations at Silver Peak, who noted that 5G services could also drive the region’s appetite for SD-WAN, providing a backup link to improve network resiliency.
In an interview with Computer Weekly, Whiting and Dean Vaughan, Silver Peak’s vice-president for Asia-Pacific and Japan, offer their views on the region’s uptake of SD-WAN, the bugbears of SD-WAN deployment, and common misconceptions about the technology.
What are your views on the SD-WAN market in Asia? And how is Silver Peak addressing the market?
Whiting: Growing the business in Asia is not easy because there are so many different markets and players. But it’s also an exciting market, because the growth here is always higher than everywhere else.
Having the right people with the right strategy and picking the right countries to focus on is critical, because the SD-WAN market is now starting to move to the next stage of evolution.
While some markets are still in the early adopter phase, the use cases and deployment scenarios for SD-WAN are now clearer. We’ve moved beyond the classic MPLS replacement use case, to what we call the multiplier effect benefits of SD-WAN deployments.
Today, enterprises deploy SD-WAN because they are trying to simplify their branch office infrastructure, retire legacy assets and speed up connectivity. But as more cloud-based applications start to emerge, SD-WAN has become the platform for those with a cloud-first mindset.
We’ve also seen some very interesting examples – companies that acquired other companies, for example, are using SD-WAN to provide different branches with access to their core applications. They can do that much faster if they have a cloud-based WAN architecture versus having to run links everywhere to connect everything into new datacentres.
One of our challenges is to find ways to address all that demand, because we’re still a relatively small company and the investments we’re making in Asia are tied to growth. There are many markets to cover, so a key part of our strategy is to build a partner ecosystem.
When Silver Peak started out, we sold directly to customers. But as we get to next stage of growth, we can’t keep adding more and more salespeople to grow. So, service providers and system integrators are a very much a focus point for us now, because they can reach the market with a combination of managed services and the ability to resell the product.
Are there any market peculiarities you see in this region?
Vaughan: SD-WAN has many features that drive different use cases. In Japan and Singapore, it’s all about breaking and routing the traffic out from branch offices to SaaS (software-as-a-service) applications like Microsoft Office 365 and Salesforce.
For countries like Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia, countries with dispersed, large populations, there’s a need to not only break internet traffic out, but also the need to save costs on MPLS which is not reliable in many of these countries. So, besides having the ability to fail over to broadband or LTE, they are also using Silver Peak to reduce their MPLS costs at branch offices where it is difficult to maintain all the equipment.
In Australia, it’s a combination of MPLS cost reduction, internet breakouts and also voice traffic. One of the benefits of our technology is the ability to have two links to ensure voice traffic is maintained at a high quality. We can handle up to 30% performance degradation, so you won’t even notice any difference in the voice quality.
I think it’s important to understand that the reason why organisations use SD-WAN in one country will be very different in another country. And over time, after customers have gone through a proof-of-concept (PoC), they quickly realise that we can not only help them with MPLS savings, but also in other areas.
What major bugbears in SD-WAN deployment do you see among your customers?
Whiting: I think the biggest challenge is that SD-WAN is a new architecture, so there’s a need to understand the interdependencies and some of the complexities of deploying it. It’s like when people first started deploying complex multi-site routing 10 to 15 years ago, there was a learning curve to understand how to integrate with legacy infrastructure.
There are a lot of customers that don’t rip out everything and replace it with SD-WAN, which still has to co-exist with legacy networks and traditional routing protocols. It’s not exactly an inhibitor, but you need the technical skills and partners who understand the market.
I think it’s also important to point out that SD-WAN is not for your typical small and medium-sized business. There are benefits to small companies, but we’ve positioned ourselves to cater to the mid-market and above segment, because the benefits of SD-WAN are much more powerful with more sites.
Ian Whiting, Silver Peak
Through our API (application programming interface) stack, we also have product-level integration with key security vendors so that our customers can integrate Silver Peak with their security platforms.
Five years from now, we may well be having a different conversation when SD-WAN becomes more of a commodity and packaged into something else. But as far as we can see, these are very discrete purchasing decisions, with a fairly lengthy evaluation cycle that’s typically six to nine months. But over time, that cycle will get shorter as people become more familiar with the technology.
What are some of the common misconceptions your customers have about SD-WAN?
Whiting: There’s no technology that solves every problem. It’s usually a co-existence of different technologies and that’s why I’m keen to point out that backward integration or compatibility with legacy network infrastructure is critical.
Even if a customer loves SD-WAN and is moving to the cloud, ripping everything out to fit the technology doesn’t work because they have support contracts and other commitments. That’s something that people don’t always fully embrace or understand.
More companies are turning to managed service providers for SD-WAN services. Are you comfortable with working behind the scenes to power those services?
Whiting: We’re very comfortable being behind the curtains. The good news is Silver Peak has already established itself as a brand in the marketplace. Our name is going to be out there, but we don't have to be the company that’s delivering managed services.
The trend towards managed services has been going on for a while now. The value-added resellers know they are not going make money selling hardware, so they have to reinvent themselves as service providers. For us, our strategy is to line up behind the big global systems integrators that want to have the ability to sell the SD-WAN appliance as a software, and wrapping services offering around it.
Then, there are others like the big telcos that are delivering a metered managed service. And because we have a very flexible way of doing SD-WAN, customers can connect to our orchestrator on the cloud or on-premise. Over the next three, four years or so, we’ll see much faster uptake of fully managed services and that’s a good thing for us.
How far ahead are your customers thinking in terms of using SD-WAN to support potential 5G applications? And how do you see 5G driving the market in the next couple years?
Whiting: 5G would be one of the use cases and benefits of SD-WAN over time. Most companies have some sort of a five-year plan for infrastructure and networking and as SD-WAN matures, integration with LTE or 5G as an alternative transport, depending where you are in the world and your cost profile, will be another compelling use case. But the primary reason for using SD-WAN is still the shift to cloud. If you don’t have a cloud architecture that enables you to tap your cloud applications, you’re going to get left behind.
Vaughan: A point I wanted to make about LTE is that many of our customers tell us that some SD-WAN suppliers have SIM cards built into their boxes. One of the biggest challenges with that – and that’s also why we don’t have LTE built into our box – is that migrating from 4G to 5G will require customers to upgrade the whole box. We’ve deliberately kept LTE separate as an external device, making it cheaper to upgrade and take advantage of 5G when it’s here.
Read more about SD-WAN
- SD-WAN offers several benefits, but companies also need to understand SD-WAN costs. Organisations need to consider some critical areas – and not all of them are obvious.
- Cato Networks survey highlights importance of considering not only SD-WAN as an MPLS replacement but also its applicability to the broader needs of the digital business.
- When contemplating SD-WAN managed services, organisations should ask questions about network security, infrastructure compatibility and bandwidth requirements.
- Silver Peak has launched a cloud-based SD-WAN orchestrator that provides centralized control of multiple Unity Orchestrators deployed in separate locations.