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Cisco's $610 million acquisition of software-defined WAN vendor Viptela marks the beginning of the end for Cisco IWAN -- a competing product that fell short of traction in the SD-WAN market, industry experts said. Also, Cisco is likely to eventually toss the vEdge appliance that runs the Viptela SD-WAN today and deliver the product as a virtual network function that will make the underlying hardware less relevant.
Last week, Cisco said it completed the purchase of Viptela, but provided no details on the product's roadmap. However, a close review of Cisco's overall networking software portfolio offers hints of the direction the company is likely to take the former startup's technology.
Cisco IWAN will fade away
Shamus McGillicuddyanalyst at Enterprise Management Associates
First is the slow death of Intelligent WAN, or IWAN. Cisco has said it would continue "to invest in the roadmap of IWAN," but analysts mostly agreed that the SD-WAN product, which many companies complained was too complicated, would be phased out over time.
"Maybe not today, tomorrow or two years from now, but IWAN is probably going to go away once enough customers have migrated from it to Viptela," said Shamus McGillicuddy, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates Inc., based in Boulder, Colo. "Complaints about IWAN are out there for everyone to see. It wasn't a great success."
Viptela SD-WAN under Cisco
Industry observers believe Cisco has learned from IWAN's failure and will apply those teachings to how it delivers Viptela's product. Today, an enterprise would choose one of three Viptela vEdge routers running the SD-WAN software. In the future, Cisco will likely offer the software as a virtual network function (VNF) that provides more options for the underlying hardware.
"It's hard for me to speculate on how they will integrate their technologies, but in the long term, I would not be surprised if [Viptela] becomes a VNF," said Dan Conde, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., based in Milford, Mass. "I think the goal is for Cisco to offer a general platform for network functions for their own and third-party VNFs."
Turning the Viptela SD-WAN into a VNF would make it a component in Cisco's Enterprise Network Functions Virtualization architecture for delivering software-based network services to the branch office. ENFV includes a Linux-based hypervisor for running VNFs as service-delivering virtual network appliances. Services Cisco provides today through the ENFV platform include firewalls, routing and WAN acceleration.
Viptela SD-WAN hardware options
As the hardware host for ENFV, Cisco offers its Unified Computing System E-Series Server or the 5000 Series Enterprise Network Compute System. Companies that need less horsepower could run VNFs on the hypervisor within Cisco's Integrated Services Router.
Cisco has said it would let third-party VNFs run on the ENFV platform, but has remained silent on whether it would let other companies supply the hardware. Andrew Froehlich, president of the network consultancy West Gate Networks in Loveland, Colo., said he expects Cisco to bundle the Viptela SD-WAN with the company's IOS network operating system and deliver it as a virtual machine instance that can run on any virtualized hardware in a private data center or public cloud.
Tying the software to proprietary hardware would make Cisco less competitive in the SD-WAN market, Froehlich said.
"Most in the industry would almost universally tell you that this would be a terrible move for Cisco," he said. "And I have to believe that the people responsible for shaping the direction of Cisco's future know this better than anyone."
Cisco bought Viptela to provide the technology it needed to grab a bigger slice of the fast-growing SD-WAN market, which, in turn, could help the company reduce its dependency on declining network hardware sales.
Cisco is gradually shifting more of its business to software-based security and networking. By July 2020, software will account for more than 30% of revenue, compared to 22% this year, according to projections released this summer by the company at the Cisco Live conference.
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