Take back control through SD-WAN, claims Riverbed

13 December 2017 | James Pearce


Steve Foster, senior solutions engineering manager at Riverbed Technology, talks WAN optimisation, SD-WAN and the opportunities they present for enterprises

SD-WAN is all about taking back control and then making sure what you want is what you get. 

That’s the view of Steve Foster, senior solutions engineering manager at Riverbed Technology, who believes software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs) the control they want. 

Riverbed, which built its reputation around improving the performance of applications and end-user experience as one of the first to market with a WAN optimisation solution, is now looking at capturing a greater share of the enterprise market with its SD-WAN platform.

The IT vendor, which is headquartered in San Francisco, was founded in 2002 and is known for its SteelHead range of appliances. It began offering software-defined products after it acquired German firm Ocedo in January 2016.

“SD-WAN is about handing the element of control back to the enterprise,” explains Foster. “Traditionally the telco has been in control providing services, and the enterprise has had to choose the services from those available from the telco. SD-WAN allows you to build your own control layer and define which networks services you want to take and how you want to consumer them, whether you want internet only or some MPLS services.”

Riverbed sells its solutions through partner-led channels: service providers, which offer SD-WAN services on its platform as a white label service; and through reseller partners, which go directly to enterprises.

Foster admits that SD-WAN is the current industry buzzword, but claims that enterprises aren’t actually looking for a virtualised solution itself, but more the ability to use multiple services without losing performance levels.

“When we drill down into what they actually need, it is more of a combination of a range of network services. SD-WAN just happens to help in delivering it,” he says. 

“This isn’t the end of MPLS or dedicated fibre services. This gives the customer the ability to do some intent-driven decision making. They can overlay some kind of business-intent on top of what could be a relatively simple network.”

Trying to do that today with traditional networking equipment can be “a challenge”, he adds. SD-WAN gives enterprises “that same control and performance improvement without the complexity” normally associated with trying to manually integrate multiple services. 

“You can take an embedded WAN optimisation and SD-WAN solution to leverage MPLS for low latency voice and video traffic and internet services for direct-to-clout net services, and embedded optimisation to effectively give you the best performance of both worlds.”


Software-defined

With all of the talk on the network side around the flexibility and agility offered by software-defined networking and virtualisation, I ask Foster whether he believes this technology is the holy grail it is being pitched as for the telecoms sector, and for its enterprise customers.

“At this point it is difficult to tell because it does promise much,” he cautiously answers. “SDN has been on the forefront for many years but SD-WAN is the first example where it has been delivered as a packaged solution that can be consumed easily. 

“There is a tendency to say SDN is going to control the world, but even at large enterprises there isn’t the time to go out and build your own control. SD-WAN is the first real example. While it is probably the Nirvana, whether it will win the end-to-end enterprise network remains to be seen.”

The key role it will play, he adds, is dealing with the increasing complexity of enterprise networks as more services move from being on-prem to the cloud or to internet-based software as a service offerings.

This “hybridisation” of the network increases complexity, bringing new challenges for enterprises, Foster claims. 

“That’s where SD-WAN can really shine – our SD-WAN product reduces that complexity of providing connectivity to all of those services, but also ensures the performance by giving the visibility through our WAN optimisation piece,” he explains. 

“It’s all well and good thinking you’ve got control, but if you don’t have visibility you don’t know for sure. If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it, and if you can’t control it, you can’t improve it. You can’t see the impact of the changes you’re making, so it’s important to bring that visibility to the customer. With that comes the cost reductions. Simplifying always reduces the cost, because complex networks are effective.”