This syndicated post originally appeared at Network World Zeus Kerravala.

Silver Peak’s Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN enables customers
to achieve the vision of the thin branch and internet breakout
without the complexity that made it untenable before

It seems that with technology, when we deploy something new, our first instincts are to make it look like the old thing. Then, at a later date, smart people figure out how the new thing can actually do something different.

For example, the first Windows applications had a very DOS-like look and feel to them. Eventually the good folks at Microsoft created an ecosystem that gave us an entirely new way of working. I suppose this path creates the least amount of friction for people, as they can ease themselves out of the old way.

Another example is with software-defined networking (SDN) and SD-WAN. The initial wave of solutions was really about replacing MPLS with broadband to save money. Architecturally, everything stayed the same, but the circuits connecting the branch to the data center were augmented with or replaced by broadband, which brought the cost down and created a more efficient network.

That begs the question: What is act two of SD-WAN? What’s the thing that SD-WAN let’s us do that we couldn’t do with legacy networks? The answer lies in branch redesign, and last week Silver Peak introduced a new product to help customers with that task.

I’ve long felt that transforming the WAN without doing anything to the branch solves only half the problem. It’s like taking a shower without changing your socks. I agree that an SD-WAN can significantly cut the cost of transport and running the WAN, but most branch offices are a mess with respect to infrastructure. Typically a customer needs an SD-WAN appliance, WAN optimization, firewall and, of course, the branch router. What if this could be simplified and businesses could have a single appliance? I know that’s been tried before and hasn’t worked very well, but that’s because the network had not changed.

Silver Peak’s new Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN solution brings the concept of the “thin branch” to life, as it takes advantage of the fact that SD-WANs are overlays to the underlying physical networking, making it much more agile. The solution is a single appliance that includes SD-WAN, WAN optimization, a stateful firewall and BGP routing. It also includes a new feature called First-packet iQ that, as the name suggests, looks at the first packet and then automatically sends the traffic to the internet, the data center or even a regional hub.

The concept of doing split tunnels has been around for decades, but the administrative overhead required to constantly look at traffic and determine where to send it was so high that most network managers wouldn’t bother with it. It was much easier to just overbuy WAN bandwidth and route it through the central hub. The “magic” behind Silver Peak’s solution is that it is completely automated, making it easy to implement.

I have a general rule of thumb when it comes to IT projects, and that is the solution to a problem should always be simpler than the original problem. That was definitely not the case when it came to trying to do internet break out via a split tunnel. Also, the First-packet iQ feature enables a more granular level of traffic steering, as a business could choose to connect directly to trust cloud apps such as WebEx or Office 365 but then send traffic destined to unknown or little-used sites to a regional hub to pass through a firewall. This is a significant improvement over the one-size-fits-all approach required if one were to try it with a traditional router.

SD-WANs are hot right now with the value proposition being tied to cost savings. As the technology matures and becomes mainstream, it’s important that vendors take advantage of the unique attributes of SD-WAN to enable customers to do things they could never do before. Silver Peak’s Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN enables customers to fulfill on the vision of the “thin branch” and internet breakout without the associated complexity that made it untenable before.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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