Ahead Of Acquisition By VMware, VeloCloud Challenges Cisco By Aiming For Outcomes, Not Intents, With New SD-WAN Offering

Little more than two months before VMware acquires it, SD-WAN provider VeloCloud Networks has aimed at the "intent-based" networking model being championed by archrival Cisco Systems.

VeloCloud on Monday rolled out a new suite of "outcome-driven networking," functionality for its subscription-based cloud-delivered SD-WAN solution. The company's exes say this new offering leapfrogs intent-based networking in the race to simplify networking operations for corporate IT organizations. VeloCloud is also testing a program that rewards partners for knocking out customers' existing routers and replacing them with VeloCloud SD-WAN.

The new functionality brings the fight to Cisco, the market's dominant networking vendor, on two fronts. Hand-in-hand with the launch of outcome-driven networking, VeloCloud is rolling out a program that allows customers to trade in their existing routers when they migrate to VeloCloud SD-WAN. "We know there are a lot of businesses out there that are saddled with legacy routers and are looking to activate a refresh," said Mike Wood, VeloCloud vice president of marketing. VeloCloud has brought about three partners into the trade-in program and plans to roll it out to others gradually.

[Related: CRN Exclusive: VeloCloud Gets Service Providers To 'Ready, Set, GO' Sell SD-WAN]

"Given that the outcome-driven networking model enables you to eliminate and annihilate your router that's in the network, it ends up being almost a burden," Wood said.

"Cisco has been one of the vendors that has talked about intent-based networking the most," said Wood. "But it's never manifested itself; it's never become a reality."

In development for about six months, VeloCloud's outcome-driven networking solution is a feature of VeloCloud's Cloud-Delivered SD-WAN solution, making it a more effective way to automate and orchestrate the network, because it can be overlaid on any existing network, Wood said.

By contrast, Wood said intent-based networking solutions require users to "start from scratch, " and it is "not something you can just add on or insert into the legacy-style routers that are out there."

"Intent-based has been named that way purposely because you have to know exactly what your intents are, and there's much more complexity around attempting to deliver it, which is why it hasn't manifested," Wood said. "The outcome model is focused on business outcomes themselves, and there's much better abstraction."

This argument of whether networking should be focused on intents or outcomes is merely the latest skirmish in a competitive battle between VMware and Cisco. Both firms have taken up arms in the red-hot market for SD-WAN, which seeks to connect and manage large enterprise networks with software that abstracts many of the previously hardware-centric features of proprietary routers. VMware earlier this month inked a deal to acquire VeloCloud in a move that some partners said could put Cisco in "panic mode." Six months ago, Cisco acquired SD-WAN start-up Viptela for $610 million.

Mike Frane, vice president of product management at Little Rock, Ark.-based service provider Windstream, said outcome-based networking allows partners to move faster and compete more effectively than they can with intent-based solutions. Already, SD-WAN accounts for about 19 percent of Windstream's most recent quarterly revenues. "With intent-based, you intend for the network to do one thing," Frane said. "The outcome-based approach is better because it's more about the result for the customer, not the buttons behind the curtain."

"We've fully integrated the APIs into our portal, so our customers have full visibility and control over their SD-WAN," Frane said. "The challenge with SD-WAN is getting it to play well with everything the customer already has. This really lets you set those expectations for the outcome you want and let the technology do the work for you. SD-WAN is far and away the fastest product I've seen customers want to adopt, and the dynamic nature of outcome-driven is really taking the market by storm. It's not an insurance policy anymore. It really solves business problems every day."

Cisco did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

VMware intends to make VeloCloud a key component of its NSX network virtualization business, and the companies have a sweeping vision for the future of the networking market, Wood said. "Right now for every SD-WAN vendor, there's a demarcation point between the data center and the WAN. With VMware, we will abolish that demarcation point," he said. "These types of models will be more of a seamless integration and connection not only across the WAN but extending into the data center, whether it's private, hybrid or public. Eventually, there will be a ubiquitous system available."

Outcome-Based Networking eliminates manual programming and configuration and automates deployment based on users' stated business outcomes, like retailers' need to separate and secure customers' credit card information or an enterprise's need to improve call center voice quality. Those outcomes are applied and visible across the network, whether on-premises or in the cloud. The system is also self-learning and provides analytics and predictive insights, the company said.

"IT can click on the outcome they want to achieve, and that can be propagated to the entire network, and have everything configured automatically," Wood said.

VeloCloud partners will get instant access to Outcome-Driven Networking, and the company is encouraging solution providers to get it in front of customers as soon as possible. While there aren't any new incentives attached to the product itself, Wood said the system allows partners to operate more efficiently and close more deals.

"They will be able to address more of the problem set that their customers have," Wood said. "If they were winning seven out of 10 deals, that will probably go to eight or nine. This will dramatically improve their operations and their profitability mainly because they'll be able to move on to the next deal. They won't spend as much time designing and architecting, and they won't spend as much time deploying and troubleshooting systems. They're actually going to be able to win more deals per month than they did before mainly because they're going to be able to move on. They won't stay with the customer for a couple of days helping them to learn more about the system. They'll be able to move on."

Cisco is now leaning heavily on its intent-based networking initiative to pull the company out of the world of expensive, proprietary hardware-based networking and into the burgeoning software-defined market.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said recently that more than 1,100 customers had adopted the company's Catalyst 9000 switch, which is the foundation of its "Network Intuitive" intent-based networking initiative.

For now, Cisco may have an advantage in the rapidly developing market for software-defined networking solutions, said Chris Bottger, vice president at AVI-SPL, a Billerica, Mass., solution provider that works with Cisco.

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"There are many companies that are racing toward automating the network like VeloCloud, and as a result of that there is a lot of complexity, and that provides opportunities for partners.," he said. "The key is can you integrate end-to-end with differentiated services that enable partners to make money and deliver better customer experiences? I think that is where Cisco has the upper hand in its architecture and approach across the spectrum."