Cisco’s IWAN isn’t dead

Reports of the death of Cisco’s IWAN are greatly exaggerated. Not only is it still alive, but the integration of Viptela will only make it better, Cisco says.

Cisco’s IWAN isn’t dead
Stephen Lawson

Earlier this month, Cisco completed the acquisition of SD-WAN vendor Viptela, which it had announced in early May.

The companies’ recent news sparked several rumors about the fate of Cisco’s Intelligent WAN (IWAN), with publications writing such articles as “Is the End Near for Cisco’s IWAN?” and “Cisco’s Viptela acquisition could mean IWAN is dying or dead.” The content of the articles isn’t quite as aggressive as the headlines, but the articles have led to a number of misconceptions about what Cisco will do with its SD-WAN solution.

Cisco obviously has a massive install base of customers, particularly within the readership of Network World, so I thought it was important to write something that would help everyone understand what Cisco is doing — or not doing — with IWAN.

+ Also on Network World: Why Cisco needs SD-WAN vendor Viptela +

Some of the speculation revolves around the thought that if Cisco now has Viptela, it no longer needs IWAN because they are both SD-WAN solutions. That might make sense from a high-level perspective, but the products do address different needs.

There’s an expression that goes something like this: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like nail.” And that’s the approach most SD-WAN vendors take. There’s obviously some overlap, but think of IWAN and Viptela as being overlapping Venn diagrams with a large converged area, but the two do address different needs today —  although Cisco plans to integrate the two into a single, more flexible solution that can address all requirements.

I’ve discussed the roadmap of IWAN and Viptela with several executives at Cisco, including CEO Chuck Robbins, Executive Vice President David Goeckeler, and Vice President Prashanth Shenoy, and they all reiterated the fact that Viptela won’t kill IWAN. In fact, they say it will make it better.

What is IWAN?

Before I describe the integration roadmap, there are a couple of important points to understand about IWAN. The first is that there is actually no single product called “IWAN.” It’s a solution based on Cisco’s widely adopted Integrated Services Router (ISR) running different technologies such as DMVPN, WAAS, PfRv3, AVC, and Akamai Connect. ISR has become the de facto standard in branch routing, with Cisco holding north of 80% in that market. 

Each year Cisco sells about $1.6 billion in ISRs, so dumping the ISR-based IWAN would be bad for Cisco’s customers, resellers, service provider partners and anyone else involved in the massive Cisco ecosystem — making it bad for Cisco. The company has always been a customer-first vendor, and I can’t think of a case where it abruptly killed off a widely adopted product. Cisco may eventually stop using the name IWAN, but the core components will be around for the foreseeable future.

The second point about IWAN is that it’s hard to deploy and manage, and Cisco admits this. Cisco’s history is filled with great innovation that didn’t get adopted as widely as it could have because of complexity. TrustSec, PfR and NBAR are a few that come to mind, and IWAN would certainly fall into this category.

However, over the past few years, Cisco has gotten religion around ease of use, and everything the company is doing is based on the concept of making it easier for its customers to purchase, deploy and manage Cisco technology, so using Cisco everywhere gives a “1+1 = 5” value proposition. The recent “Network Intuitive” launch was based on making Cisco so easy to manage that it manages itself. It’s with this goal in mind that Cisco acquired Viptela.

The Cisco/Viptela integration plan 

However, Rome wasn’t built in a day nor will it be fast integrating Viptela with Cisco at an operating-system level. To get there, Cisco customers can expect the following integration plan.

cisco viptela integration plan Cisco

Phase 1: No integration parallel products

This may sound odd, but the first phase of integration will be no integration — at least not at a product level. Understanding that businesses today want solutions that are designed to be cloud first and easy to deploy, Cisco and its resellers will lead with Viptela and the vEdge device.

Existing customers that are deploying their network with IWAN, will continue to do so. If a customer decides to buy a Cisco ONE software license for the ISR and chooses to move to Viptela later, Cisco will credit back the cost of the software license. 

Customers that want Viptela’s full-service stack (UC, WAAS, etc.) can go with a SD-WAN bundle, deploying ISR behind the vEdge.

Customers that want to move to a Cisco-based SD-WAN solution today are protected no matter which path they chose — Viptela or IWAN. 

Phase 2: Platform integration

In about a year, Cisco will have native integration where the Viptela software will become an integrated feature of IOS XE running on the ISR 4000. This native integration provides Viptela capabilities on all physical/virtual platforms that can run IOS XE.

Example: Cloud Services Router (CSR) 1000V, Enterprise Network Compute System (ENCS) 5000 Series with ISRv or the Aggregation Services Router (ASR) 1000.

In this case, Viptela management will manage ISR physical/virtual platforms the same way it manages vEdge nodes today.

Phase 3: Management integration

This phase is likely a few years away, but Cisco’s goal is to create a single pane of glass for the end-to-end network. This will be accomplished by integrating vManage into Cisco’s DNA center, with the ultimate goal of delivering on the vision of intent-based networking from the data center to the branch and out to the cloud.

Ultimately, the name IWAN might disappear, as Viptela’s vManage will be used as the management interface for Cisco WAN infrastructure, but this in no way means Cisco will kill off the products that currently comprise IWAN.

 In the past, Cisco has been quick to kill off the brand of the acquired company and have those products assume Cisco naming convention. Think back to Tandberg, Selsius, Latitude and many others that went through this transition. A few years ago, Cisco may have acquired Viptela and called it IWAN manager or some variant of that, which may have avoided some of the misinformation that is out there today. 

Over the past few years, Cisco has maintained the company brands of the companies it buys. Examples are Cisco WebEx, Jasper, Meraki, Tropo, and now Viptela. The most important point for customers to understand is that Cisco acquired Viptela to augment and make IWAN better. Businesses seeking to adopt an SD-WAN can choose to leverage its ISR 4000 for IWAN or jump straight to Viptela — or something in between — and be assured that the decision will eventually lead to the same point. IWAN isn’t dead, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.