Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is getting a lot of attention these days. It’s attracting deployments from carriers, investment from Cisco, and mergers on other fronts. But just what is it and can it help WebRTC?
SD-WAN is the child or an evolution of software-defined networking (SDN). Software defines the network and how it operates, with services decoupled from dedicated hardware. The end result is being able to tailor a network the way you want it on the fly without being locked into dedicated hardware. Network functions run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers, so SDN and SD-WAN end up being cheaper and much more flexible than purpose-built (legacy) hardware.
For WAN people — we’ll define them as large enterprise guys — SD-WAN provides a way to simply adding branch offices and other infrastructure, with network services configured and deployed at the branch edge, in the cloud, or via data centers. Applications performance can be optimized with SD-WAN also providing consolidated monitoring and visibility over multiple network links and service providers.
Cisco pitched in on VeloCloud’s $27 million round of funding, its third, along with NEA and Venrock. VeloCloud has raised a total of $49 million so far and lists Equinix and Vonage among its publicly announced customer wins. Verizon is already using Cisco’s iWAN tech as a part of its SDN strategy, so it should be interesting to see if VeloCloud ends up making some major carrier announcements in the future.
And publicly-traded Riverbed Technology acquired SD-WAN and SDN solution provider Ocedo last week. While Riverbed isn’t the household NOC name like Cisco is, the company generates more than a billion in annual revenue and boasts that it has over 27,000 customers including 97 percent of the Fortune 100.
Carriers are warming to SD-WAN because it offers application level visibility to monitor performance — key to making service level agreements (SLAs) work. Being able to have end-to-end control over services all the way to the customer premise gives carriers an edge, especially when they have to use network elements they don’t own in order to meet enterprise needs. It doesn’t hurt that SD-WAN, like SDN, can turn up services in days instead of weeks and months, increasing speed for the customer and faster billing for the service provider.
For WebRTC applications, SD-WAN can assist in providing resiliency — the whole brownout/blackout protection feature. If a network path gets clobbered, SD-WAN can actively reroute traffic through multiple network interfaces. SD-WAN also provides the ability on how to route WebRTC media (and any other real-time communications application based upon network conditions, so WebRTC sessions can be put onto the best available network path.
SD-WAN will also benefit hosted unified communications service providers and anyone offering WebRTC as a service. SD-WAN can provide a virtual gateway between the enterprise and cloud data centers, bypassing the need and expense for MPLS services to provide QoS.
Vonage’s use of SD-WAN is instructive, since it demonstrates the ability of SD-WAN to enhance the performance of applications over the top of an existing broadband connection or an existing private MPLS connection, plus throws in benefits including Quality of Service (QoS), brownout/blackout protection, and the ability maximize bandwidth resources across multiple locations.
We will definitely hear more about SD-WAN in the future and it’s going to be a hot topic at this week’s ITEXPO business technology event in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. I’m interested to see some real world applications of SD-WAN to WebRTC in the months to come.