Cisco pours Viptela SD-WAN capabilities into its router platforms

Cisco is continuing the integration of its Viptela acquisition with Tuesday's news that it has added Viptela's SD-WAN technology to its enterprise routing platforms.

Cisco has combined its IOS XE software with Viptela's SD-WAN technology in order to simplify WAN optimization, deploy SD-WAN services at a faster rate and provide better visibility into SD-WAN services on customers' existing Cisco router deployments.

Tuesday's news is the second phase of Cisco's integration plans for Viptela, which it bought last year for $610 billion. 

"The first phase was to bring Viptela into Cisco by merging the sales marketing and product management and engineering teams and really scale up the number of deployments that they have," said Cisco's Kiran Ghodgaonkar, senior marketing manager for enterprise networking, in an interview with FierceTelecom. "I'm happy to report that we're pretty much up to about 850 plus deployments now of the Viptela solution. We are seeing very good pickup from our customer base.

"Phase two is really about making that Viptela software available on our enterprise routing platforms. You'll still be able to manage it using the same Viptela vManage user interface, but any of the routers in our existing router portfolio that will be running this new software will be able to manage and operate just like any other Viptela device."

The third phase, which is 12 to 18 months down the road, will include integrating the Viptela management software with Cisco's Digital Network Architecture, which Ghodgaonkar said would deliver an end-to-end service that includes wireless and switching products.

The news means that Viptela and the IOS XE software, the latter of which has been around for several years, are now available across Cisco's SR 1000, ISR 4000, ASR 1000 and ENCS 5000 routers.

"One of the reasons we've decided to really standardize on our IOS XE was that it's our next-generation operating system," Ghodgaonkar said. "IOS XE offers that multiservice capability and it's more programmable. As we start to open up our platforms to third parties, then we have the northbound API capabilities to allow those partners to come in on top of our platforms. Then with containerization capabilities, we can start to offer support for third-party software. Because of that modular, containerized capability, it was easy enough for us to bring in the Viptela software onto the platform."

All told, Cisco has 1 million routers that are now ready for SD-WAN services across Cisco's carrier and enterprise customer bases.

"For Cisco customers, this is great news," said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group, in an email this morning to FierceTelecom. "It allows them to deploy an additional technology into an existing asset at the remote or branch offices without growing their footprint. This gives Cisco a cost advantage with their customer base as they do not have to procure and deploy additional hardware. I also believe that this checks a box on executing against their stated objectives when they acquired Viptela, which was to integrate the tech into their routers."

Software subscriptions across routers give Cisco recurring revenues as it seeks to move beyond its hardware roots and into the realm of software-based services. Ghodgaonkar said it was possible that a virtualized version of the software could run on x86 boxes, but that's not Cisco's focus for now.

Cisco's two-pronged approach to SD-WAN

In addition to Viptela, Cisco bought another SD-WAN vendor, Meraki, in 2012 for $1.2 billion. Ghodgaonkar said the Meraki deployments typically have more customers but fewer sites per customer, while Viptela has larger customers with many more sites. Cisco doesn't say how many deployments its Meraki SD-WAN solution has.

"The Viptela solution is very much focused on customers that are using a lot of multicloud architectures and who are really looking for end-to-end segmentation," he said. "They have multiple data centers and users spread over different locations. Customers that have more complex WAN deployments and need a lot more control over those deployments are really looking more towards the Viptela solution. Then we have customers that are really looking for that one simple full-stack management that Meraki has. Meraki has a pretty rich embedded security stack, and it's for customers that are looking for more of a turnkey SD-WAN solution."

Ghodgaonkar said Cisco would be adding more security features to its Viptela SD-WAN solution.

Competition abounds in SD-WAN playing field

This news is good for all of the customers that have deployed Cisco routers, but there's still plenty of SD-WAN turf to fight over. In IHS Markit's first-quarter analysis of the SD-WAN sector, VMware, which bought VeloCloud last year, Aryaka and Silver Peak ranked ahead of Cisco at the top of the leaderboard.

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When asked which vendor was Cisco's closest competitor, Ghodgaonkar said that VMware/VeloCloud was "probably one of them." Laliberte said his company tracked north of 40 SD-WAN vendors, and he mentioned Aryaka, Riverbed, Citrix, Talari, CloudGenix, and Versa Networks as some of the top SD-WAN vendors.

"I think the SD-WAN landscape is changing," Ghodgaonkar said. "I think you've got vendors that are evolving from WAN optimization into SD-WAN, and now you're also seeing security players evolve to add SD-WAN capabilities to their solution as well. All signals are pointing to more consolidation in the marketplace, but time will tell."