Cisco Systems’ Dual Path To SD-WAN With Meraki And Viptela

The SD-WAN market is expansive. At my last count, over 60 different SD-WAN solution providers were in the market, both large and small. Soon I expect that this number will begin to rapidly consolidate and a half dozen or so dominant players will emerge. I believe Cisco Systems will be one of those SD-WAN victors for three reasons—its massive install base, fully integrated security stack and platform choice flexibility. It’s the latter that I find intriguing. Only a handful of networking infrastructure providers offer a complete solution and Cisco offers two. I would like to provide my insights and two customer proof points that demonstrate why I think Cisco is on the right SD-WAN track.

Are two platforms better than one?

The old adage that two heads are better than one is well known, but can the same be said for two SD-WAN platforms offered from the same company? In Cisco’s case it seems to be a solid strategy. I’ve written about it in the past—if interested, you can find that article here. Thanks to its consistent success in the networking space, Cisco has had the opportunity to grow rapidly both through organic product development and acquisition.

Acquisition definitely played a key role in the company’s SD-WAN offering. Meraki was acquired in 2012. Its SD-WAN platform is positioned to deliver cloud management simplicity for small, mid-market, and larger enterprises alike. I’ve had the opportunity to kick the tires and Meraki’s dashboard appears to provide a simple, intuitive interface. I’m not a networking engineer, but I can see how organizations with smaller IT staffs would appreciate the usability. The acquisition of Viptela followed in 2017. Viptela’s SD-WAN platform is positioned for deployment within more complicated networking topologies that require segmentation and advanced routing capabilities. Together, I believe Cisco offers one of the most flexible SD-WAN platforms in the industry.

Adoption is the sincerest form of flattery 

I had the recent opportunity to speak with two of Cisco’s customers, Johnsonville Sausage and World Acceptance Corporation (WAC). You’re probably familiar with Johnsonville in your supermarket aisle, and I have to say that I’m one of its biggest fans! From a networking perspective, the company struggled to manage an overwhelming number of alerts across twenty sites. Cisco DNA Analytics helped out in that regard but given the complexity of its environment (from managing SAP for food processing, to the massive number of connected devices in the office and on the shop floor) the company needed a more scalable solution. Viptela helped to automate policy, provide improved security and ease device provisioning, deployment and ongoing management. Meanwhile, it helped assure the right quality of service levels for mission critical operations in both the front and back offices. What I find impressive about the Johnsonville deployment is its support for over 45 thousand endpoints. Additionally, I’m impressed that the SD-WAN deployment was initiated live on existing routers that have been in place for over five years. 

You may be less familiar with World Acceptance Corporation, but it is in the business of making consumer loans and offering other financial services. World Acceptance Corporation’s staff of less than a dozen people struggled to manage over 1,200 branch locations stretched across 16 states. The company employed a reactionary approach to branch outages, constantly putting out fires. It evaluated a number of solutions including VeloCloud and Fortinet before settling on Meraki. Meraki ultimately delivered ease of use through its intuitive dashboard, templatized deployment scheme and single pane of glass for simplified management. Meraki also delivered a full suite of features, including content filtering, application performance monitoring, and VPN auto-build capability. Additionally, Meraki Dashboard hastened deployment for the World Acceptance Corporation given its Microsoft Azure environment. Management budgeted 18 months to complete the entire implementation, but full production was realized in nearly half the time. As a result of Meraki, the World Acceptance Corporation is now able to be more proactive, prevent issues that could cause downtime before they happen and shift IT staff efforts into more value-added activities for the branch locations. The speed of deployment and rich “out of the box” Meraki functionality stood out to me as compelling in the World Acceptance Corporation deployment.  

Wrapping up

One size does not fit all. For this reason, I believe Cisco is well-positioned to capture a substantial piece of SD-WAN market share—its Viptela and Meraki platforms address a wide range of software-defined WAN use cases. In my experience as a former product marketer, customer choice is always a good thing. Viptela’s ability to support more complicated and customized network topologies and Meraki’s ability to offer a cloud-based, easy-to-deploy-and-manage solution is a winning combination. I’m not a gambler, but my brother always reminds me to double down on a good bet. Seems to me Cisco has a winning SD-WAN strategy.