Dispersive Networks targets SD-WAN sector with its multi-path approach

Self-proclaimed announcements of being a disruptor in the telecommunications industry have almost become table stakes for new entrants, but Dispersive Networks could live up to that billing.

While Dispersive's distributed networking technology has various use cases, it has drawn a bead on the SD-WAN sector. Alpharetta, Georgia-based, Dispersive was founded 10 years ago by radio frequency engineers who applied spread spectrum concepts to fixed networks in order to improve security and performance.

To date, Dispersive has been granted 31 patents and has 14 more pending. Dispersive has been deployed by enterprises, government agencies and branches of the military due in part to the stringent security capabilities of its multi-path, software-defined networking overlay solution.

But Dispersive is pretty much unknown in the SD-WAN sector, which is one of the reasons the company hired former Adva exec Chris Swan and current CEO Ed Wood two years ago.

"So Dispersive is very open architecture orientated," said Swan, who is chief revenue officer. "It likes to be inside of other people's technology, or have other people's technology in ours."

How it works

Dispersive replaces virtual private networks (VPNs) with its Dispersive Virtualized Network (DVN) to guarantee packet performance simultaneously over multiple paths and networks.

Swan said the typical VPN shoves the entire payload of every application down an IPSec tunnel, which can lead to security issues or degradation in the event of a fiber cut or other network interruption.

"VPNs are very easy to attack if someone does an intercept or 'man in the middle' type of attack," Swan said. "Because all of that traffic is shoved down the same path, an attacker can get every bit of that built in encryption.

"It's very problematic and even more so with so many people working from home due to COVID-19. A lot of people are running across their VPNs from their home networks, which are easier to intercept. They also get frustrated with the VPN performance."

There are also VPN-related quality-of-service (QoS) issues such as jitter, latency or network degradation that can cause multiple problems. Hybrid WAN addresses some of those issues by providing multiple access points, but Swan said "you're still shoving all of that traffic down one access point or another."

"If it degrades, you have to move all of that traffic," Swan said. "DVNs replace VPNs all the way down to the device level. We're dividing the application traffic into channels."

A DVN deployment is comprised of end point clients or gateways, strategically placed "data deflects," a controller and an orchestrator.  Dispersive's data deflects are cloud-based virtual machines that can run anywhere there's compute, storage or a connection.

"What the data deflect is doing is sensing the traffic," Swan explained. "If it sees degradation or an attack on a network, it will roll that traffic over to another encrypted path.

"The data deflect is doing the job of constantly monitoring and managing the traffic for those attacks or anomalies, but it's also optimizing. If it sees a faster path, it will move over to that faster path for an improved service experience."

Similar to WAN acceleration, Swan said Dispersive is typically two to 10 times faster than VPNs. The AES-GCM 256 encryption defends against DDOS, DoS and BGP attacks, among others. Working in tandem with the data deflects, Dispersive uses its own session controller to manage splitting up the packets across the various connections.

In order to illustrate Dispersive's precision timing, Swan used the example of smart city traffic running in real time on Amazon Web Services in one location that can be rolled over to Microsoft Azure's cloud in another location when an issue crops up without missing a beat on keeping the connections for traffic control and camera sensors.

"We're resilient and self-healing in the architecture and those are big things that SD-WAN can't do," Swan said.

Dispersive's DVNs can be deployed in universal customer premises equipment environments, network function virtualization (NFV), bare metal and container-based microservices.  Swan said that Dispersive also meets zero trust network architecture and some SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) requirements.

"Another thing that is different about us is we go all the way down to the endpoints, to the clients," Swan said. "So instead of stopping at the branch like SD-WAN does, we can run on mobile phones. We're already in the Apple and Android stores to be able to operate in the mobile environment."

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All of which begs the question: Why isn't Dispersive more well-known in the SD-WAN space?

"So a big part of my job is going to be getting out into the market and helping this shy company with amazing technology become better known," Swan said. "That's where we are because the product is really good. It's rock solid, it's been demonstrated.

"So a lot of it is getting it into the space and helping companies realize that they don't have to use 25-year-old VPN technology to solve their problems anymore. Most people don't realize there's a choice."

Dispersive, which Swan said had less than 50 employees, is entrenched with two well known Tier 1 U.S. telcos, and Swan said he has also been working with smaller Tier 2 and Tier 3 service providers as well.

"We're working with service providers who are baking us in and I've spent a lot time on that recently," Swan said. "Our main customers are larger enterprises, especially those with critical needs such as financial services, federal government clients and military customers."

Building an ecosystem

In order to further drive its telecommunications ambitions, Dispersive announced its Dispersive Unity community in March. The budding Unity ecosystem's members include Adva, Lanner and PhoenixNAP, among others.

"Another element I'm working on is deeper integration across a broader set of partners," Swan said. "There's a variety of things we want to do to take this to the next level. Things like accelerating more of our algorithms so we're applying more artificial intelligence into the product.

"You'll also see us doing more around making that interoperability visible and available across the market, especially in IoT and even blockchain as part of that whole digital transformation movement."

But first things first. For now, Swan wants to make Dispersive a known name as a disrupter in the SD-WAN playing field even though its not technically an SD-WAN technology. With more than 60 SD-WAN vendors, including powerhouses such as VMware, Cisco, Versa Networks, Silver Peak and Fortinet, Swan expects customer announcements to be forthcoming.