Clash Of The SD-WAN Titans: VP Dave West On Positioning Cisco To Win In The SD-WAN Market

Cisco's Dave West says SD-WAN is an integral part of the company's vast intent-based networking play and its continued evolution toward life as an open, software-focused firm.

'Hard To Beat'

Cisco Systems Vice President of Worldwide Sales for Enterprise Networks Dave West knows what competitors are saying about the company's prospects in the red-hot market for software-defined wide-area networking, namely that SD-WAN is a grave threat to the networking giant's legacy router business.

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He respectfully, very respectfully, disagrees.

"I know what the competitors are saying, and I appreciate them," West said. "They're all good, strong competitors. At the end of the day, this transition is happening in the market and I firmly believe we are best positioned to win this transition and I think we're going to be hard to beat."

Cisco acquired SD-WAN power Viptela last year for about $610 million. Just a few months later, VMware acquired top SD-WAN player VeloCloud, instantly intensifying the software-defined battle between the two tech heavyweights.

While VMware argues that the rise of SD-WAN threatens Cisco's router business, West contends that SD-WAN is an integral part of the company's vast intent-based networking play and its continued evolution toward life as an open, software-focused firm.

What follows is an edited excerpt of West's conversation with CRN.

How much do your customers stand to save with Cisco SD-WAN?

We are having cost savings discussions with customers, and it's different for every customer depending on who they're working with. We're not leading with the cost savings discussion. It's a part of the discussion. We're going through the ROI analysis with them. It is much more for them around how do I transform the user experience? How do I optimize my security framework as I use the WAN and the Internet? How do I save operational costs as we look at simplification and flexibility? I could throw a percentage target out to you, but we've seen a lot of different models based on the size and scope of the customer and what they want to achieve at the end of the day. There are customers that are achieving significant dollar savings, but they're more excited about the flexibility and the better experience they're providing their customers, the new security architecture they're defining for their business. It's a much different conversation, and it's something we learned when we brought in Viptela. We used to think of cost saving as the primary factor, and what we're learning is that cost saving is not the primary factor here. Everything in me said it was when we started this thing, but it is not. It is much more about redefining the WAN in terms of flexibility, optimization, application experience and eventually we come to a cost factor, but it's not driving the conversation.

What are the trade-offs for Cisco? Competitors argue that this is the end for Cisco routers.

There is more upside than downside for us. I know what the competitors are saying, and I appreciate them. They're all good, strong competitors. At the end of the day, this transition is happening in the market and I firmly believe we are best positioned to win this transition and I think we're going to be hard to beat. Our reputation in the WAN is really strong within our customer base. As we build and deliver the next-generation software and orchestration model, we give customers choice. I want to virtualize. Great. I want to use Cisco routers. Great. I want to experiment in some other area. Great. I think they're going to see us as the open platform for their backbone, for their orchestration and also for their edge. I think we're in a really good position. We'll be hard to beat in the market. If you start to pull it all together with what we're doing with intent-based networking, it comes together really nicely from an architecture perspective and it's going to be hard for our competition to talk about it that way.

How do you feel about Cisco's position in the market as it shifts toward SD-WAN?

We're incredibly excited to see this transition. We believe we're incredibly well positioned from a software, orchestration and automation perspective, which will be fundamental to the software-defined WAN transition either on cloud or on prem. We think we're well positioned from a security perspective. It's hard to have an SD-WAN discussion and customers are bringing in Internet access to optimize their experience for their users for Office365, Salesforce and others. We have a really good solution story to tell from a security perspective. Our pedigree in hardware. It feels like we're in a really good spot.

What are the main factors driving the rapid growth of the SD-WAN market?

We're seeing three big transitions that are defining this in the market and driving us today: the first is our customers are looking for simplification, flexibility and choice in the WAN. The idea of SD-WAN is they move apps to the cloud and they want to transform the user experience and determine how they want to route traffic, how they want to optimize the application experience, who they want to work with as the underlay as they build this next-generation overlay. The simplification and flexibility is an important piece of the puzzle. Secondly, applications are moving everywhere. Workloads are moving everywhere. You need to be able to drive policy, segmentation across the WAN and you need to optimize how you access those applications. In the past, running back through their own DMZ and going back through a data center to access the internet, it's not going to scale, or provide the flexibility customers want in the WAN. Third, it's almost impossible to have an SD-WAN discussion without having a next-gen security discussion. The two are so tightly aligned. We're seeing the eroding of the old DMZ architecture. Now customers are moving toward either Internet in the branch or connecting through co-los. They're looking for that next-gen WAN capability and security will help get them there.

How are you positioning Viptela and Meraki SD-WAN?

It really is around Cisco SD-WAN, the re-naming of Viptela as they came in and as they integrate across our portfolio. Then we have Meraki SD-WAN. We've made sure the use cases are really well-defined. If it's a customer and they're a Meraki customer today and they don't have an overly complicated WAN, and they're driving simplification and they want some flexibility in the WAN, Meraki is a fantastic solution. Customers that have fairly complicated WAN infrastructures – they've got applications moving everywhere, they're looking for next-generation security models, they're doing mergers and acquisitions – then we have the Cisco SD-WAN portfolio, what used to be called Viptela.

When will that solution to be ready for prime time?

It's ready for prime time. Our customer count is growing exponentially, daily. Large customers. What you'll see over the next several months is it's going to get tighter and tighter integrated into everything we do. The beauty is it's part of this whole intent-based networking approach we're taking. We're driving intent-based networking. On the campus we're doing it with the Cat9K. We're now taking that to the WAN. It's not a separate piece of the puzzle, it's an integral part of our intent-based networking capability. It's fundamental to it. Eventually, you're going to move from the campus, and you're going to have workloads in the cloud and you need to connect to the cloud and branches. All of that stuff is going to happen over the WAN. Taking all of the work we're doing around segmentation, policy automation and bringing it together and more tightly integrated from end-user all the way to wherever the apps sit. We're seeing a tremendous amount of traction. We can't keep up with the activity we're seeing in the market. We're scaling this thing as hard and as fast as we can. This transition is so real.

How many customers have signed up for Cisco SD-WAN since the acquisition?

Several hundred at this point.

How do SD-WAN and intent-based networking go together?

Intent-based networking is all about solving business outcomes. The intent piece is we're going to achieve a business outcome by using software and orchestration and machine learning to turn all of those capabilities on in the network that delivers that business outcome. We've done that. I've used automation and orchestration to drive out my intent, how do I know if it's working? That's the analytics with Assurance. We have this whole strong analytics piece in Viptela, as well. WAN analytics. That intent doesn't stop in the campus, it needs to be extended into the WAN to workloads that sit in the cloud, workloads that sit in the branch. The idea is that Viptela becomes a part of that. SD-WAN becomes part of that. You start to build out your intent-based capabilities for an enterprise, and it goes everywhere. You've got to get visibility everywhere... There's a tremendous amount of excitement for this, and it's pervasive. Our customers want these capabilities and now that we're using software and orchestrion to make it much, much easier, it helps a lot. You see them very excited about the capabilities, and partners are fundamental to our success.