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The Hybrid WAN requires paradise by the dashboard lights

Cisco recently came out with a new version of PfR (v3) to make moving to a next-generation WAN easier, with an improved dashboard as a key feature.

One of the iconic singers of the late 70s was a guy who called himself “Meat Loaf.” In one of his more notable songs he sings “though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark night, I can see paradise by the dashboard lights.” Some might think he was talking about being with a lady in his car, but I offer an alternative view. I believe he was talking about how cold and lonely it is for network managers who are in the data center late at night trying to troubleshoot WAN problems. However, with a good dashboard that lights up problems, that network manager could eventually find paradise.

I was recently interviewing a Cisco Sales Engineer that I’ve know for a while about the concept of the hybrid WAN, and it seems Cisco recently came out with a new version of PfR (v3) to make moving to a next-generation WAN easier, with an improved dashboard as a key feature. If you’re not familiar with PfR, it can be thought of an as an advanced, application-driven routing protocol that is ideal for hybrid WANs.

Traditional routing protocols only consider the network when determining where to send packets. For example, with BGP, consider a network with two alternative paths, one with a single hop and one with two hops; BGP would always pick the single hop, even if there was significant congestion along that path.

PfR uses application-level intelligence, such as packet loss, jitter, mean opinion scores (MOS) and other factors to determine the best path. This means application traffic is always flowing down the path that will yield the best user experience. In fact, using PfR, a customer could architect a network with a mix of MPLS, Internet paths, and 3G/4G wireless and route-specific applications down the various paths depending on the importance of the application.

Despite the power of PfR, adoption has been light. I would estimate that less than 15% of customers that have PfR capable routers actually turn it on. Why? Because it’s very complex to get up and running. Version 3 of PfR, which was released in July, solves the complexity problems. Configuration is now done centrally and the PfR policies are pushed out to the branch routers. PfR v3 also includes better drill-down and troubleshooting tools and a basic dashboard for trending information. This version also includes API support to enable third-party integration. PfR is one of the cornerstones of IWAN, Cisco’s architecture for the hybrid WAN.

One of the partners for Cisco in this area is LiveAction. LiveAction 4.1 is Cisco’s preferred management platform for IWAN. Version 4.1 of LiveAction adds a number of features, allowing businesses to take advantage of the improved path control in PfR v3 and large-scale configuration and change management functions.

LiveAction further increases the simplicity of deployment through the use of bulk configurations and CLI templates and has the ability to push the configurations to Cisco and even some non-Cisco platforms.

According the sales engineer I was interviewing, the biggest benefit, though, was the robust PfR v3 dashboard in LiveAction 4.1. The dashboard has been the calling card for LiveAction since its inception and the upgraded dashboard graphically shows PfR v3 workflows, network paths, and enables fast troubleshooting since it has an end-to-end view of the network. Through the use of the newest version of 4.1, network managers no longer have to feel lonely in the dark as they’ll have greater visibility of the hybrid WAN from those dashboard lights.

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