Is SD-WAN actually increasing MPLS investment?

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

March 12, 2018

7 Min Read

**Editor’s Note: This is the latest in a series of articles on the state of SD-WAN, featuring perspectives from vendors, analysts and partners. Check out our previous SD-WAN roundup featuring Ecessa.**

The biggest misconception about software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) is its cost, says Kirk Amstrong.


Eclipse Telecom’s Kirk Armstrong

“The big misconception with SD-WAN is that you’re going to save money. Everyone’s like, ‘You’re going to save lots of money.’ Money’s just going to be spent differently. You can spend the same amount of money or even spend more money,” Armstrong tells Channel Partners.

That of course is just one of numerous misconceptions, he says.

Armstrong, network design specialist for Eclipse Telecom, helped the consultancy roll out its first SD-WAN solution two years ago. He recently joined the lineup for our SD-WAN panel at the upcoming Channel Partners Conference & Expo.

He shared his observations and recommendations for customers and the businesses that build their networks.

For one, companies shouldn’t adopt the new technology primarily out of a desire to cut costs. Rather, it’s about “the re-architecture of the network to be cloud-enabled,” according to Armstrong. More and more applications have joined unified communications in moving off premises. IT departments need an architecture that handles those workloads quickly but also with the security aspect in mind.

“You’re not sitting in the same data center that you were for 30 years. Things are moving to the cloud. You need to be able to get to your traditional assets still in your data center, your colo or your private cloud,” he said. “You need to be able to get out to the Amazons and Azures of the world and all your SaaS applications.”

It’s impossible to discuss re-architecture without getting into the topic of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), the transport mechanism that divides SD-WAN vendors and analysts.

Our previous two columns traded barbs about the relationship between SD-WAN and MPLS. Matthew Toth of C3 and Shlomo Kramer of Cato Networks argued for replacement, while Ecessa’s Mike Siegler argued for a hybrid approach.

Armstrong encounters clients who assume that SD-WAN equals MPLS replacement, but he tells them otherwise.

“It’s such an annoying buzz term, because everyone says SD-WAN pulls out your MPLS. Well, SD-WAN actually can include MPLS. It can have VPLS. It can be internet-internet; it could be internet-broadband,” he said.

SDxCentral has an interesting snippet from Verizon’s Shawn Hakl, who claims that SD-WAN has increased the company’s MPLS revenue. According to Hakl, many enterprises are deploying both.

“They keep the MPLS for certain applications that may need a high level of security and stability,” Sue Market paraphrased Hakl as saying, “So instead of eliminating the MPLS line, these customers are …

… actually adding SD-WAN.”

Armstrong agrees with that sentiment. Some of his customers use internet as primary failover for their MPLS.

“I’m seeing more customers right now ready to re-architect and select a new vendor for their network based on SD-WAN in the last year than I’ve seen probably in the last four to five years,” he said.

The MPLS-enhancing SD-WAN that puts the carrier in charge of everything is one of four to five broad categories of the technology, Armstrong says.

Another category is what might be dubbed the “China-Asia Solution” for global companies that need to securely connect to the continent. Aryaka and Cato have established themselves as leaders in this tier.

Armstrong calls a third category “appliance-based” or “quasi-router replacement,” where the vendor works through the “edge” of the network. VeloCloud is the closest thing to a household name in this category.

Recognizing these categories and their subsegments would be a start for a market that confuses customers and partners alike.

“Getting people to actually use it in a framed vernacular within standards I think is maybe our biggest hurdle in the industry right now. Nobody knows exactly what it is until you spend enough [work] hours like I did to understand what flavors of ice cream you have,” Armstrong said.

He says a partner’s success will come not from figuring out the best SD-WAN solution as if it’s a silver bullet, but rather having “15 arrows in the quiver” and figuring out which one works for the specific client.

“And then you can start saying, ‘Hey Mr. Client; you keep this one because you’ve had problems in China, or you keep this one because you’re trying to do this,’” Armstrong said.

Introducing Mushroom Networks

The world of SD-WAN is full of unique vendors, and this is a good example.


Mushroom Networks’ Jay Cahit Akin

While some companies popped up in the last six years, and others – such as Cisco and VMware – acquired their way into the space, Mushroom Networks is 14 years old, and its technology has been evolving.

CEO Jay Cahit Akin helped found the company after graduating from Michigan with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science.

He tells Channel Partners that the company’s broadband bonding technology is well known. Mushroom Networks helps businesses manage multiple WAN connections, but also has been popularizing the idea of “cognitive networks.”

“You really bake the intelligence into the solution so that they can run on autopilot,” Akin said.

Mushroom uses overlay bonding tunnels to make the network “self-cognitive.” Akin says his company envisions an autopilot future.

“Are we there fully? No. We’re basically hitting milestones and slowly getting there. We believe we have the most zero-touch, self-computing, self-healing system out there, but we still have aspirations to make SD-WAN much much better in terms of having inteligent network elements,” he said.

Akin says more than 500 partners in more than 40 countries are a key part of Mushroom’s strategy. They are primarily VARs, but MSPs and independent software vendors (ISVs) are growing subsets.

He says Mushroom occasionally works with a client directly but otherwise prefers indirect.

“We have a very mature and established channel-partnership model. It really ties into the solution being really easy to install and operate, but we also have a lot of experience in on-boarding North American as well as international partners,” he said. “Having said that, in SD-WAN in general, I think the opportunity is still at …

… the very early phases. There is tremendous opportunity for resellers and MSPs to take advantage of this.”


The networking giant rolled out new tools for visibility in the WAN. Cisco extended its “intent-based networking” initiative last week.

This strategy includes offerings from Cisco’s two biggest SD-WAN components: Meraki and Viptela. The new Cisco SD-WAN vAnalytics is a SaaS solution that uses Viptela technology, and Cisco also launched Meraki Insight to bring additional visibility.

“We have set an ambitious goal for ourselves of transforming the entire network, from campus to branch, data center to edge,” said Scott Harrell, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s enterprise networking. “The WAN is a vital part of the network and is one of the toughest to manage. As we bring insight into the WAN with these new innovations, we get closer to delivering end-to-end, intent-based networking to help our customers eliminate downtime and save money.”

VeloCloud introduced an outcome-based strategy intended to give let businesses automate based around specific goals.

Light Reading’s Kelsey Kusterer Ziser wrote an article weighing the differences between intent-based and outcome-based networking.

Quick Hits
  • Netsurion, which traditionally has been associated with security, launched an SD-WAN solution. Read its announcement.

    • A Versa/Dimensional Research survey found that 85 percent of SD-WAN adopters do so for increased security and reduced application sprawl. See Versa’s press release, plus its recap of the recent SD-WAN Expo.

    • Talari Networks reported a 175 percent quarter-over-quarter growth increase in new customers. Read its announcement.

    • Cybera added an executive vice president of worldwide sales and channels. The company calls itself an SD-WAN services provider. Read the announcement.

    • TPx Communications added Silver Peak to its platform. See their announcement.

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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