Cisco SD-WAN Review

A solution for integrating services to enhance up-time, performance and lower costs

What is our primary use case?

With my first client on Viptela were getting MPLS (MultiProtocol Label Service). That is a type of communications network that most of the major providers like Verizon offer. They were paying roughly $3,000 a month for each one of their 30 branches. That was giving them 10 megabits per second. We replaced that with the likes of Verizon Fios and Comcast. Each one of those business internet services cost about $200 apiece per month. The cost of the SD-WAN was maybe another $200. So for $600 a month, we replaced something that was costing them $3000 a month, and they were getting a minimum of about 50 megabits-per-second upload and download.  

What is most valuable?

Because our client uses two different ISPs at each location, the service is always up. The chances of Comcast going down at the same time that Verizon Files goes down is very, very small. The result is that the client's services are always up with much higher speeds and much lower costs. I think that those benefits are the ones that people are primarily interested in and that is what SD-WAN allowed us to achieve.  

What needs improvement?

I think that the SD-WAN had everything that my client was interested in in our first experience with it. I think that some of the solutions now are being integrated with other services. As an example, Fortinet has a product called FortiGuard. Included in the FortiGuard product is an SD-WAN. So some of these products are expanding capabilities so that they have more to offer in a single product.  

That would be a nice thing for Cisco. They could provide you your firewall and your SD-WAN solution together. Some people like that approach of nesting products or bundling because they have fewer vendors to deal with and immediate integration.  

I am sure as time goes on that the threat landscape will continue to change all the time. What was good encryption five years ago may not be such great encryption today. Because of that, I am sure that you have to constantly be looking at the threat landscape to see if you need to change anything. I do not know if I am close enough to that cutting edge of the problem to answer the question as to what Cisco's solution really needs. All I know is that my client is very happy with what they have got in the way of savings and functionality. That does not mean that there are not some other things that they would like to see. I just do not know what they are.  

There are a number of large companies that have bought out various SD-WAN vendors. If you looked at VMware, you will find that they also have an SD-WAN that they bought. There are several other companies that have bought SD-WAN services because the technology is so good and the cost benefit is so great that it is worthwhile for almost any company to implement it. They get the advantage of performance and the benefit that these systems never go down.  

As an example, one time locally there was an incident where two providers, CenturyLink and Level 3, went down at the same time. If you had CenturyLink and Level 3, your connection to the internet would have gone down for six or seven hours or whatever the overlap of those outages was. That would be an extreme case. There is another local ISP service called Cox, if you had CenturyLink and Cox, Cox did not go down. In that case, you would continue using your internet or your connections to your branches without ever experiencing an outage and it would just go through Cox. The reason is that Cox's infrastructure, their central office, their wiring, their co-ax cables, or fiber are completely separate from what CenturyLink uses. CenturyLink has got a completely separate central office and completely separate wire. So the chances of those two entities going down exactly at the same time is something that just never happens.  

For how long have I used the solution?

I helped a client implement a solution called Viptela a while back. Cisco purchased Viptela in August of 2017 and that is what Cisco uses as thier main SD-WAN solution. That first encounter was probably about four years ago.  

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The system worked extremely well from the beginning and there have been no issues with stability. In fact, stability is the reason why the solution was put in place.  

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

SD-WAN is certainly scalable. Huge companies use SD-WAN. Ever heard of Jiffy Lube? Ever heard of PNC Bank? Ever heard of Gap? (I do not know whether Gap surviving because of COVID) Those are just a couple of companies off the top of my head who are using SD-WAN solutions. It is largely scalable. I think that PNC Bank had something like 4,000 locations. It is very scalable.  

In the SD-WAN world, they have something called an orchestrator. On the orchestrator, you can see everything that is happening on your SD-WAN. So you can see if a particular carrier is going down, or if you are experiencing errors or whatever. You can see a complete picture of your entire wide area network in one pane of glass. In the old days before SD-WAN, if you had six carriers, you would have to go and look on six different carrier systems to find out what was going on. Even then, you were not necessarily getting all the information that you needed. SD-WAN is the greatest thing since sliced bread when it comes to having an overview of services.  

It is very widely adopted because it is better and cheaper and easier. You are seeing more companies looking for those solutions. Some of the telecom companies are offering SD-WAN. Some of the UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) companies are also promoting SD-WAN. One of the reasons that they are is to assure their clients that their telephone service will always be up.  

How are customer service and technical support?

Any technical support we needed was great. Everything worked from day one so there was not a lot of need for those services.  

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

Our client was using a single service and they wanted a more reliable service, higher speed, and much lower price. We found that solution for them by integrating services. Instead of paying $3000 a month for each of 30 locations, they got it down to about $600 a month for each location. They switched because they got what they wanted.  

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup and installation was pretty straight forward.  

What about the implementation team?

The people from Viptela, at the time, assisted in the implementation. They were helpful in pushing along the implementation and it went smoothly.  

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Depending upon the speed and depending upon the vendor, if you are getting SD-WAN as a service, it is probably something in the neighborhood of $100 to $200 a month per location. That is the cost of the SD-WAN. Then, of course, you need your business broadband connections. Business broadband with like 50 megs symmetrical or 100 megs symmetrical and may cost something like $100 a month or so. But at any rate, the services are not very expensive and they are widely available.  

What other advice do I have?

The advice that I would give someone in the market for an SD-WAN is to look at Gartner and see what Gartner has to say. My information is recent in that the bank that I implemented it in does other business with me and they tell me that everything is working great. They have never had a problem. It is now four years later and it is probably worthwhile taking a look at what the competition is doing — including Cisco Meraki, which is another SD-WAN offering from Cisco. A lot of companies have implemented Cisco Meraki, and Cisco Meraki is a good solution. But there is also Versa which is a good SD-WAN solution. There are at least seven or eight very well-known companies that provide SD-WAN solutions.  

On a scale of one to ten (where one is the worst and ten is the best), I would rate Cisco SD-WAN as a ten-out-of-ten. For my client, it was certainly a ten between the cost savings of 80% and a performance boost of 400% or so. It worked right from the beginning and saved them a ton of money.  

**Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Consultant
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