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Cisco rolls out easy-to-use iWAN

Historically, "difficult to use" and "Cisco" have gone hand in hand. Cisco's new iWAN is an effort to get away from that.

If you stay up and watch late-night TV, you've probably seen a fellow named Vince Offer. Vince is the pitchman for products like the ShamWOW and the SlapChop. Part of the value proposition of these products is that they're easy to use. Just rinse off the ShamWOW and use it again! The SlapChop comes apart simply and is dishwasher safe! (I actually have a SlapChop and it really is easy to use.)

As good a pitchman Vince is, though, there's no way he could have ever been the person to promote Cisco's iWAN. For those not familiar with iWAN, it's Cisco's implementation and powered by PfR (Performance Routing). As powerful as iWAN is, many customers have not taken advantage of it because it's difficult to get set up and hard to manage. Vince would have started to configure PfR and would have gotten lost in all of the settings. That would have made for a bad commercial.

Historically, "difficult to use" and "Cisco" have gone hand in hand. When I worked for a reseller, we billed a ton of hours doing the complicated stuff that customers didn't have the skill to do. While this might be good for the services industry, having customers ignoring products' features because of complexity ultimately isn't good for the customer or Cisco. A couple of years ago at a Cisco Live event, CEO John Chambers made a promise to make the company's products easier to use.

As part of the company’s Interop activities last week, Cisco launched a number of new Integrated Services Routers (ISRs). Jim Duffy did a nice write up outlining the new routers and the technical specs. Cisco loaded the new ISRs up with features to enable businesses to build hybrid WANs, including a new, easy-to-use version (version 3) of PfR, making it easier for customers to take advantage of iWAN.

Version 3 of PfR (PfRv3) has many improvements over version 2 of the feature. PfRv3 brings centralized management for the entire domain, whereas each hub and branch location had to be administered independently in PfRv2. Also, PfRv3 brings a level of application awareness to iWAN. In version 2, application policies were determined by the DSCP (differentiated services code point) setting. The DSCP is the most significant bits in the DiffServ field and is used to determine IP Precedence. This still exists in PfRv3, but now application policies can be set based on application flows. Logically, it makes more sense to set application policies based on application traffic rather than network traffic, but most network devices don’t have much in the way of layer 4-7 services.

To help get iWAN up and running, PfRv3 includes a number of application-specific templates for applications, such as voice, video, and even custom applications. Without the templates, configuring PfR must be done manually – one of the big barriers to greater adoption of iWAN. This also enables businesses to create application-level SLAs versus having to focus on just network uptime.

Another significant improvement is that the monitoring of the links is now done passively without probes. This is far less intrusive and much faster to deploy than having to utilize active probes. Previously, all traffic was passed through and either marked as preferred or to be load balanced. Now organizations can also choose to drop traffic instead of passing it through. Given the focus on security today, the ability to drop traffic should be a welcome feature for Cisco customers.

PfR has been available for many years, but the new, easy-to-use PfRv3 should enable many more customers to enjoy the benefits. So easy that even Vince could configure it!

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