Is the End Near for Cisco's IWAN?

While some have speculated that Cisco's acquisition of Viptela means the end of IWAN, analysts predict an integration of features from both SD-WAN solutions.

Kelsey Ziser, Senior Editor

August 18, 2017

6 Min Read
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.)

Cisco denies it's giving up on IWAN. Prashanth Shenoy, the company's vice president of marketing for enterprise networks, says there's no end-of-life or end-of-sale planned for IWAN and that the company aims to integrate Viptela by the end of June 2018.

"Both of our solutions -- the IWAN solution and the Viptela solution -- are open platforms with open APIs, so it's very easy to integrate at the hardware level the vEdge software, which is the gateway for Viptela, into our ISR 4K," he says.

Initially, Cisco will provide the Viptela platform "as is" to new SD-WAN customers. IWAN customers will have the option to be phased into Viptela via an ISR 4000 software upgrade, says Shenoy. The next phase would involve integrating Viptela's cloud management and orchestration, called vManage, solution into Cisco's DNA Center. (See Cisco Rewrites Enterprise Networking DNA in 'Monumental Shift'.)

In response to whether the Viptela acquisition means an end to IWAN, analyst Ray Mota of ACG Research , says "There is some truth to that, but realize: It's going to be a phased approach, and there are some good things in the IWAN product. What Cisco is going to do is identify where those strong features are and where there's scalability and security, and they'll try and combine certain features into Viptela."

Mota says while Cisco talks about morphing into a software company, it's not as much about software as it is about providing a subscription-based service with a more predictable revenue stream. (See Cisco's Robbins: With IoT & Cloud, Services Beat Products.)

"Viptela -- when you look at it from at least a strategy perspective -- they kind of have a cloud-first mentality," including a subscription-based service, says Mota. Cisco will favor that model over the perpetual license that IWAN is sold under, he says. "It's not really that all the things of IWAN will go away. There will be things that will be integrated into the Viptela product as well."

Eventually, there will likely be a re-branding of IWAN, like Cisco did with Meraki, says Mota. Cisco has approached some very complex networks with IWAN, he adds, and if you wanted a hybrid environment, IWAN made sense.

"Even if you say IWAN is shutting down, there are still going to be some assets there that are going to be used," he says.

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— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Kelsey Ziser

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Kelsey is a senior editor at Light Reading, co-host of the Light Reading podcast, and host of the "What's the story?" podcast.

Her interest in the telecom world started with a PR position at Connect2 Communications, which led to a communications role at the FREEDM Systems Center, a smart grid research lab at N.C. State University. There, she orchestrated their webinar program across college campuses and covered research projects such as the center's smart solid-state transformer.

Kelsey enjoys reading four (or 12) books at once, watching movies about space travel, crafting and (hoarding) houseplants.

Kelsey is based in Raleigh, N.C.

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