Is the End Near for Cisco's IWAN?

Cisco's $610 million acquisition of Viptela, which closed Aug. 1, might seem to signal the end of IWAN, Cisco's home-brewed SD-WAN. But analysts are predicting a smooth transition to an integrated product that draws from the strengths of both IWAN and Viptela's features.

An August 1 blog by Scott Harrell, senior vice president of product management for Cisco's Enterprise Networking Group, promises that Cisco is continuing to invest in the IWAN platform. But Viptela will be the "preferred" answer for SD-WAN customers looking for "advanced routing, complex topologies, or granular segmentation capabilities," he writes.

So, it sounds like IWAN will live on. And even if Cisco's commitment wavers, a little company called Gluware is ready to help IWAN customers. More about that in a bit.

Trouble for IWAN
Daniel Conde, cloud platforms analyst for ESG, says that trouble started brewing for IWAN as SD-WAN features evolved to offer more resiliency, advanced visibility and tie-in security. It became increasingly difficult to make IWAN work.

"I don't think they're going to kick IWAN out the door, because Cisco has a huge market presence, I think north of 70 with their ISRs [Integrated Services Routers] and ASRs [Aggregation Services Routers], and some of that technology runs on top of UCS blades as well at the branch," says Conde. "So they're not going to tell people to throw it away. I think it's going to be like you would expect a large company like Cisco to do -- have a gradual transition.

"I think the critical thing is the new generation of ISRs allow you to run network functions as a virtual machine -- so it's not like it’s a piece of hardware where the WAN and SD-WAN features are baked in, they're quite easy to install using these virtual machines."

Conde forecasts that Cisco customers running new ISRs could run classic IWAN in addition to new features from Viptela as a virtual machine running concurrently or by switching between them. He predicts the transition won't be immediate but will be smooth, and that Cisco likely won't do any major further enhancements to IWAN.

That's where Glue Networks comes in.

Making IWAN Stick
"I think that the old IWAN plus Gluware will probably be phased out in favor of something that is going to be initially Viptela, maybe resold as is but I think they'll be busy integrating that into the overall management story," says Conde. A lot of the initial Viptela technology will be sold standalone and then integrated in, he added.

Gluware is configuration software from Glue Networks. In a partnership that dates back to 2011, Cisco resells Gluware as an option for managing IWAN and bolstering its SD-WAN capabilities.

"In the beginning, we were the solution for managing Cisco's IWAN, and we built a very flexible model for configuration of Cisco IWAN," says Richard Lopez, VP of solutions architecture for Glue.

Glue sees opportunity in the Viptela acquisition. Viptela runs an overlay on top of the physical network -- but some Cisco customers don't want to introduce another overlay or box, Lopez says. He adds that some large enterprise and service provider customers find Viptela to be less feature-rich than IWAN.

Glue gets the call when a customer has tried to deploy IWAN with existing Cisco tools, but ran into issues because of conflicts arising from legacy network architecture, he says.

With the Viptela deal closed, Cisco is "going to put all their customers and all their eggs into the Viptela basket," says Eric Clelland, Glue's senior vice president of sales, marketing and business development. "It's going to take a while for that to get integrated into the routers themselves, so they're going to have to put this external box outside the router -- the ISR -- that they sold the customer."

According to Clelland, some IWAN customers think the Viptela solution takes the routing richness away from their ISR. "It kind of dumbs down the router if you put that device there," he says.

(Glue, incidentally, is gearing up for a major announcement on August 21, but the company tells Light Reading that its IWAN story will remain intact.)

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