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Cisco is moving rapidly toward its ultimate goal of making SD-WAN features ubiquitous across its communication products, promising to boost network performance and reliability of distributed branches and cloud services.

The company this week took a giant step that direction by adding Viptela SD-WAN technology to the IOS XE software that runs its core ISR/ASR routers. Over a million of ISR/ASR edge routers, such as the ISR models 1000, 4000 and ASR 5000 are in use by organizations worldwide.

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The release of Cisco IOS XE provides an instant upgrade path for cloud-controlled SD-WAN fabrics to connect distributed offices, people, devices and applications operating on the installed base, wrote Anand Oswald, senior vice president of  network engineering in a blog post about the upgrade.

The software includes support for vManage, the cloud-based dashboard built by Viptela that lets users bring up SD-WAN resources and segment resources on the fly.  Cisco acquired the SD-WAN company for $610 million last summer. Earlier this year Cisco added Viptela’s vAnaytics technology to its SD-WAN software to help enterprises identify the stress points and necessary policy or bandwidth changes that might be needed across an SD-WAN.    

“Cisco adding SD-WAN capabilities to its ISR/ASR router portfolio is a significant industry milestone in and of itself, as this will allow a large number of enterprise IT shops to benefit from upgrading their existing Cisco-based WANs,” Rohit Mehra, vice president, network infrastructure research at the International Data Corp. said. “And mind you, these are software upgrades that will enable network managers to rapidly move to an agile network environment with improved and an improved user experience for public cloud/SaaS applications.”

Oswald wrote that Cisco SD-WAN on edge routers builds a secure virtual IP fabric by combining routing, segmentation, security, policy and orchestration.

“It eliminates backhauling from branches to headquarters to access SaaS applications, improving application performance and experience for a distributed and mobile workforce. For example, at the branch-level, you can define a performance policy for Cloud SaaS Onramps to maintain a level of QoS for Office 356 performance and assign a real-time streaming policy for unified communications,” Oswald wrote. 

Driving the need for better SD-WAN security and connectivity features is the huge push in cloud computing resources, said Kiran Ghodgaonkar, Cisco senior manager of enterprise marketing.  “With the increased use of multi-cloud services especially, the WAN is really becoming the backbone of the enterprise.”

Lowering costs by not having buy new hardware and by easily supporting lower cost connectivity, either via the Internet, Ethernet or LTE is another use case of SD-WAN, Ghodgaonkar said. “Users have diverse workload environments be they mobile or cloud and SD-WAN helps bring those environments closer together.”

The XE SD-WAN upgrade is the second phase of Viptela’s integration into Cisco’s SD-WAN plans. In the first phase, Cisco supported and invested in the overall Viptela SD-WAN package, including the Viptela vEdge routers.

Phase 3 of the integration will see Viptela’s package completely integrated with Cisco’s DNA Center.  Introduced last summer as the heart of its Intent Based Networking initiative, Cisco DNA Center features automation capabilities, assurance setting, fabric provisioning and policy-based segmentation for enterprise networks.

Most recently Cisco said it was opening up the network controller, assurance, automation and analytics system to the community of developers looking to take the next step in network programming. The general idea is to bulk up the the usefulness of DNA Center for the larger world of third-party and -application developers.

“Customers have seen value with DNA Center and its security/policy and service assurance attributes that leverage network and applications-based ML/AI. That said, with SD-WAN by itself providing several benefits to existing WAN environments, customers will not need to wait for DNA center integration, although seeing that integration ultimately happen will of course be ideal for Cisco customers,” IDC’s Mehra said.

While this announcement significantly boosts Cisco’s SD-WAN offering and capabilities, challenges remain. Mehra said.

“The ongoing market transformation of the last three-plus years has provided an opportunity to several new vendor and SP-led solutions, and this competitive landscape will not get lighter any time soon. And with service providers looking at the upcoming virtualized branch opportunity with SD-WAN as the beachhead, Cisco will need to stay focused and stay on of its differentiation strategy for its enterprise customers,” Mehra said.

Other competitors in the SD-WAN market Cisco targets include VMware, Silver Peak, Riverbed, Aryaka, Nokia and Versa.

Exact pricing for the XE version 16.9.1 software upgrades wasn’t clear but the model will be similar to other tiered Cisco software upgrades. 

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