FlexiWAN makes its move to put SD-WAN in open source

FlexiWAN CEO and co-founder Amir Zmora has lived up to his promise to put an SD-WAN solution into open source by moving his company's code into GitLab.

Last spring, Zmora announced that flexiWAN would put its SD-WAN software into open source as a means to break up vendor lock-in from the current roster of SD-WAN vendors. Putting its software into open source provides transparency for flexiWAN, and gives service providers and system integrators (SI) a choice on what they want to use when it comes to specific features and hardware vendors.

"The most important thing is the release into open source," Zmora said. "A lot of people were skeptical on whether we would release to open source or not. We said the end of 2019 and that's what we did."

By enabling third-party integration, flexiWAN can break vendor lock-in by creating an open source ecosystem with vendors that specialize in various areas such as deep packet inspection (DPI), security, WAN optimization, session border control, VoIP, and other traffic-specific optimization logic.

The core flexiWAN solution also can enable application-specific detection and optimization logic by software-as-a-service applications. It also can integrate with open source DevOps tools, and even with other SD-WAN vendors. In addition to cloud platforms, FlexiWAN can be installed on virtual machines and bare metal boxes.

RELATED: Telefónica kicks the tires on open source SD-WAN with flexiWAN

FlexiWAN was already being put through its paces prior to the software becoming generally available on GitLab. Zmora said the next goal was to get the deployment stage. Last month, flexiWAN announced that it has been working with Telefónica ahead of proof-of-concept (PoC) trials this year. In an interview with FierceTelecom, Zmora said that flexiWAN was also working with a mid-sized U.S. ISP and that numerous managed service providers, telcos and system integrators have been signing up on the company's web site to be a part of the community.

On the hardware front, flexiWAN is working with Advantech, Lanner and Silicom. Zmora stresses that flexiWAN doesn't make any money off of the hardware sales, but it does help bring the parties together. FlexiWAN runs on Intel x86 white box processors to help pave the way for white box deployments using virtual network functions (VNFs.)

There are several layers and price models offered by flexiWAN. The "freemium" open source-pricing model includes a fully-functional SD-WAN solution, but does not include the user interface (UI) and flexiWAN's billing system. The open source codebase includes both flexiManage and the flexiEdge.

"Somebody can go and use our REST APIs and build their own GUI and use their own system," Zmora explained. "Who will be able to take the open source and use it? Only those organizations who have strong technical capabilities that can build the UI themselves. They have to be able to manage the service, the servers and the database that comes with it. You need technical capabilities in order to be able to do it."

In order to come up with the pricing for the managed SD-WAN offerings, flexiWAN surveyed its 3,000 community members. The pricing options that flexiWAN published on its website are based on the median answers it received.

Customers can opt to pay monthly or yearly. If they commit this month, they get a 50% price reduction on the yearly plan. The free download of the code limits flexiManage to support up to three flexiEdge devices across both the monthly and yearly plans.

Customers can elect to use flexiWAN for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering that is hosted in the cloud with no long-term commitments if the opt for the monthly payment plan. They can also opt for a commercial license, in which case the customer hosts the management system, but flexiWAN provides support through bug fixes and feature upgrades to support the full package. All of the bug fixes and customer recommendations are also published on GitLab.

"We charge only based on the maximum concurrent instances of flexiManage in your account," Zmora said. "That's also a change because the typical pricing in the market today is bandwidth based. The management system itself is multi-tenant, which means if an MSP, an SI or any partner that wants to provide service to their customers opens an account in our system they can add their customers as enterprises or as organizations under their account, and manage everything from one point.

"The big advantage here is not the fact that you have a single sign on, but the fact that you get a quantity discount. If they have 20 customers each one with 50 sites, you will be paying us based on the tier for 1,000. It means that the partners, in addition to the partner discount that they got on top of the pricing, get an additional quantity discount, so they can be at the very high discount very quickly. That's the idea of the pricing."

Zmora said the sweet spot for the self-hosting option is tailored for companies that need to provision 1,000 or more sites, although a company with as few as 10 sites could opt for self-hosting as well. 

"In the self-hosting we do want the commitment of one year because we have to use more resources for something that is tailored for companies that have around 1,000 sites and above," he said. "If they are pretty small, they don't need as many resources to manage their servers and its better that we take care of that.

"We just believe that its better for the smaller customers, unless they have special needs, to use hosted by us because its too much effort and cost for them to manage all of these things and to run all of those servers."

In his ongoing effort to be transparent, Zmora said there are still a few gaps to fill for flexiWAN when compared to SD-WAN companies that have been around for five years or more. On that note, flexiWAN is planning multiple releases this year, which includes multi-link WAN and LAN support, application identification and policy-based routing on the front burner.

"The important thing is we are aware that we have gaps in the product. That's clear," he said. "We are planning multiple releases this year and we also have automatic software upgrades for the edge devices. It's very easy for the customers to upgrade their deployments."

The SD-WAN field is crowded with more than 60 different vendors. By going the open source route, providing certified hardware options, being transparent, and offering pricing plans that are not bandwidth-based, Zmora is hoping to raise flexiWAN's industry profile.

"While it's still early days, flexiWAN continues to hit their major milestones, making good on their promise to provide their core code base to the community and getting into the market with a managed offering," said Roy Chua, founder and principal at AvidThink. "Their transparent and open approach to pricing should also help set the right tone for the ecosystem.

"SD-WAN today is still a closed and opaque market, with enterprises confused about actual capabilities and total cost of ownership of each vendor's offerings. In time, as flexiWAN gains traction as a viable alternative, it could drive increased transparency."