This featured interview with Silver Peak CEO, chairman, and founder, David Hughes, is a part of the ongoing ONUG CEO Corner Series.
In the last few years, the rise of cloud computing and its complexities has given rise to a crop of precocious start-ups, causing a gradual but dramatic shift in the networking industry.
Most enterprises, typically tied to older, hardware-based networking architectures, are weighed down by vendor lock-ins, computing silos, and exorbitant operational costs. The mix of cloud computing into this equation has raised serious security, scaling and monumental network management issues. This climate has made for a great opening for the start-ups rolling out comprehensive, secure, scalable, yet simple software defined networking solutions that work with hybrid cloud computing environments.
These companies, along with leading, established providers, are crucial to ONUG’s goal to bring SDN open solutions to the enterprise. In an effort to get a better understanding of the on-going vision of these start-up and incumbent providers, ONUG brings you the CEO Corner Series.
CEO, chairman, and founder, Silver Peak
ONUG: Silver Peak is a ten-year old company in the wide area networking (WAN) space. What kind of problems did it solve initially and, how have your goals shifted with the emergence of software defined networking (SDN)?
Hughes: Initially, our WAN optimization solutions focused on problems related to limited bandwidth, latency and, quality issues, such as packet loss. Those problems still exist; however, customers started rethinking WAN, looking for alternatives to MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) circuits and the inflexibility associated with it. While WAN optimization is a transparent way of enhancing WAN performance, SD-WAN is about introducing the Internet and cloud components into the mix, and providing ways to leverage choice of transports to address the shift in customer requirements.
The other big transition is related to where applications reside and how users connect to them. Traditionally, applications resided in data centers whereas now, they are more and more in the clouds as in AWS (Amazon Web Services) or in SAAS services like Sales Force or Office 365 suites, changing the WAN equation.
ONUG: How many customers do you have?
Hughes: Over several thousand.
ONUG: Given the size of your customer base, how have you synchronized their emerging SD-WAN demands with your existing solutions?
Hughes: We have progressively added SD-WAN type capabilities to our existing products. For instance, eighteen months back, our customers began to use our multi-path capability to leverage the Internet transport along with the MPLS.
ONUG: When did Silver peak introduce its first SD-WAN capabilities?
Hughes: It is a tricky question as it depends on how you define SD-WAN. Ten years back, we introduced an overlay with tunnels, controlled by a central management system and, you could say that was an SD-WAN capability. Recently, we offered enhanced multi-path control and, zero-touch-provisioning with new policy features.
ONUG: This week, you announced new SD-WAN products. Can you elaborate on the latest capabilities?
Hughes: Yes. We have introduced a family of SD-WAN products called Unity EdgeConnect that allows enterprise customers to build branch networks leveraging MPLS and broadband Internet capabilities. EdgeConnect can be flexibly deployed as hardware or software based on customer preferences. A second component of the product line is Unity Orchestrator that resides at the central data center and manages all the policy requirements. And a third optional component is Unity Boost that provides on-demand application acceleration. The product line is commercially available immediately and has been deployed at several customers.
ONUG: How do you differentiate your solutions from competing portfolios?
Hughes: We are in a unique space, at the intersection between WAN optimization and SD-WAN. Customers would love to use the Internet to complement MPLS, but they are worried about the performance impact. That’s where a bunch of WAN-optimization techniques that we offer can be of value. In particular, these features comprise path conditioning, compression, de-duplication and latency mitigation. They allow customers to leverage the Internet, without compromising on performance.
ONUG: How many SD-WAN customers do you have now and, do they belong to specific vertical segments?
Hughes: Hundreds of our customers are using at least one of our SD-WAN features, and many are moving incrementally towards SD-WAN implementation. As regards the verticals, we are seeing deployment across a broad spectrum of industries.
ONUG: How do you think SD-WAN would affect service providers and, specifically the demand for MPLS?
Hughes: It is still very early to see the real impact of SD-WAN on MPLS from a demand perspective and, on customers’ willingness to move away from dependency on MPLS. Clearly, the inflexibility and steep pricing of MPLS is making customers rethink their existing WAN strategies, and consider emerging alternatives.
In the next year or two, SD-WAN will start to have impact, but it could take about five years for a transport-agnostic SD-WAN strategy to become pervasive. I say that based on what happened earlier in history – it took five years for the shift from private lines to frame relay and, five years for the transition from frame relay to MPLS.
ONUG: What is your vision for Silver Peak going forward?
Hughes: So far, we had been recognized as a WAN optimization company focused on enterprises. In the future, with our broader SD-WAN strategy, we will be known as a WAN company for both the enterprise and service provider markets. We already have secured two service provider customers and they are recognizing that SD-WAN solution will allow them to become a cost-efficient, managed WAN provider.
ONUG: What are your biggest challenges over the next five years as you implement on your vision?
Hughes: We will need to educate customers about the advantages and disadvantages of the various approaches to implementing SD-WAN, as there is still confusion about that in the market.