Cisco SD-WAN at Johnsonville Sausage: Cutting Costs and Complexity

IT conversion doesn’t have to come with a huge price tag. Johnsonville Sausage proved that when they converted existing CISCO hardware into an SD-WAN architecture. Anthony Wild, Johnsonville’s Global Network Operations Manager, sat down with Lloyd Noronha of Cisco at last year’s ONUG Fall conference to discuss this simple shift that had a big payoff. 

A “Crippling” Old Infrastructure

Before implementing SD-WAN, Johnsonville struggled with IT cost and complexity. They have eight significant locations around the world, with a range of other locations as well, that support 4,000 employees. Before their conversion, key applications included IoT, SAP, Factory Automation, as well as Enterprise Applications that included VDI, Office Productivity and Teleconferencing. The architecture involved DMVPN overlays with PFR, Hub and Spoke core to two data centers, MPLS and Metro Ethernet Transports, and SOHO on site to site tunnels. That led to the following key problems:

  • Confusing topology
  • Multiple management silos
  • Disjointed altering
  • No assurance
  • Lack of application visibility and DPI

Wild described their small network team of four as “feeling crippled” because they didn’t have the tools to respond to network problems. He described the lack of reliability on the web. Today’s application landscape is very dynamic. Network teams must support ERP, industrial automation and new applications that are coming out daily. Add in security patches, software upgrades, port changes and behavior changes, and you have an application landscape that is constantly evolving. Adding to the complexity is Shadow IT, the ability for any employee to purchase SaaS products, making your network even more complicated. There is a huge need for networks to be adaptable and secure. 

This complex environment resulted in business managers telling Wild’s team, “Trucks and forklifts aren’t moving.” “Hand scanners aren’t working from 3 to 5 pm every day.” Applications were not working well, but their IT team lacked the ownership and visibility to do anything about it. “We were frustrated,” explained  Wild. They needed to take command of their network. 

A Need for Change

Wild and his team knew change was needed. They went the traditional route, bringing in consultants, drafting RFPs, etc. Each vendor or consultant would ask, “What does great look like?” Their team lacked the tools to even answer that question. They knew their goal was to operate securely and deliver service on a global scale. 

They had to do this in an environment of endpoints that were exploding exponentially. IoT, industrial automation, mobile computing and server workloads added up to about 50,000 endpoints that needed to be tracked. Their goal was to build complementary solutions, applications that were aware of each other and a network that ran on simple, repeatable one- to two-step workflows. 

How Change Happened

During the discovery phase, Wild’s team realized they had an abundance of ISR routers. At the same time, Cisco was having success using these old routers. With a simple software upgrade, they were pulling out the old engine and replacing it with a SD-WAN engine. That’s exactly what Johnsonville did. Wild spoke of his excitement the first day they turned it on. “Within minutes I could see the application visibility data. It was at that time we took command, took ownership of the network,” he explained. 

Each of their eight sites had two DMVPN routers, both ISR 4Ks. In order to not interrupt operations, they converted one through a simple routing adjacent change. This aggressive approach was necessary since Johnsonville was in peak grilling season. They couldn’t afford to shut down. They needed to convert and keep moving. 

Wild showed a branch being converted in real-time, a process that took about 30 minutes to one hour. Going forward, when they are asked to bring IT services to a new location, they can do so easily with minimal costs. That includes a full complement of services, such as WiFi 6 Controller, Next-Generation Firewall, WAN Server, as well as meshing to the company’s private and regional cloud presence. 

Benefits of Gaining Control

This conversion to SD-WAN “enables us to do more with less and operate as a lean IT team.” boasted Wild. They can now deliver a high level of assurance and automation.  

A summary of benefits included:

  • No downtime. A simple transition took only minutes using simple flash to IOS-XE SD-WAN and template application. Two ISR 4Ks on each site allowed for a “lights on” migration from DMVPN to SD-WAN during peak season.
  • No added infrastructure. All hardware was repurposed ASR/ISR platforms.
  • Immediate performance improvement. Application visibility data was instantly available.
  • Budget savings. No new hardware was purchased. Templates make for easy and cost-efficient future upgrades. 
  • Greater monitoring security through assurance and alerting. 
  • Simplified management. Single pane of glass for management and operations. 
  • Telecom. Global MPLS usage has drastically gone down.

Wild spoke of how their conversion modernized the telecom landscape as well. In addition to bandwidth improvements, cost savings gave them the opportunity to invest those savings into innovation. 

Looking to the Future

Johnsonville is not done yet. They are constantly refining and looking for new ways to streamline. They are currently looking at more industrial applications. For example, massive data lakes exist at industrial complexes that have not been connected via fiber. To leverage that data and improve safety, the company is looking at ways to have a completely connected enterprise. They are currently testing the SD-WAN on industrial router 1101. 

Cisco’s SD-WAN solution delivered a single dashboard from which Johnsonville could manage its network, ensuring no erroneous policy drifts and providing full application visibility. 

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