How Riedel Networks Adds Greater Value to its MPLS Portfolio with SD-WAN
When you think of a Formula 1 race car, the last thing that comes to mind is a mobile hotspot. But that’s exactly what these high-octane vehicles have become. Every car is equipped with hundreds of sensors that send real-time telemetry data back to pit crews. Engineers then analyze this data stream and radio back to drivers, telling them when to accelerate, what gear to use, and how to best approach a turn—among other things. This has been part of Formula 1 racing since the 1980s. You could say F1 cars are a very early example of the Internet of Things.
Formula 1 is how came into being. We are a subsidiary of Riedel Communications, a company that provides real-time networks for video, audio, and communications. Our products are used to produce and broadcast sports, live concerts, and corporate events. We make the intercom systems and walkie-talkies crews use to talk to one another. We also provide the network infrastructure that transmits footage from cameras to broadcast control centers so networks can switch from one view to another.
But it was ultimately a customer request that changed our focus. One of the racing teams who used our car and team radios asked if we could help with telemetry data. Their existing solution was too costly and too complicated. They wanted an easier way to transmit this information to their factory so they could optimize their car between races, and were looking for a new backbone to tie it all together.
Riedel Networks was created in response to this need. If we could offer networking solutions for something as specific as car telemetry, couldn’t we also do it for other applications? Could we look beyond events and broadcasting? That was back in 2005. I joined the company in 2012. By then, our focus was already on MPLS VPNs, but we continued to help our parent company with its main line of business.
Adding Value for Existing Customers
Riedel is a company that has shifted gears over the years, all the while staying the course. This is why I went looking for the next big thing that would help us solidify our networking business without cannibalizing our MPLS sales. I found it in SD-WAN.
I have to admit that the SD part excites me more than the WAN part. Software-defined services are changing IT since the hardware is only one piece of the puzzle. While you need flexible hardware, an essential part is what's built on top. Look at cloud computing and virtual machines. The beauty of SD-WAN for Riedel is that we can run it as yet another overlay on our existing MPLS network.
Finding Mature Partners for an Emerging Technology
One of the challenges of trying something this new is the lack of appropriate resources and business partners.
To start, there were no products that supported a service provider model. Available solutions were all about setting up a software-defined solution one customer at a time. You could build a hub and a couple of spokes for one client, and then you’d have to repeat the process from the start for another. There was no scalability.
There was also an overemphasis on cost. SD-WAN was seen primarily as a low-cost alternative to MPLS. Most implementations ran point-to-point over the internet to save money, instead of running on dedicated transport networks.
Our final issue was multi-tenancy. One Californian SD-WAN vendor was supposed to have it working, but when I called and asked for a demo, they referred me to a sales agent in Germany. The agent then told me that the vendor didn’t offer multi-tenancy, but that it might be available 18 months down the road. That didn’t work for us.
The next stop in our search was a Californian SD-WAN venture of a Finish vendor. They offer a complete solution, but they only target larger accounts. Their SD-WAN solution is comprehensive, but it costs too much, and is not very flexible. I don’t believe it’s been widely adopted.
That left the one option that had a multi-tenancy solution in place. There were several advantages to using Cisco. Multi-tenancy was top of mind but, as a network service provider, our entire operation was already based on the company’s hardware. Cisco already spoke our language. When they acquired Tail-F and then Viptela, we knew they were starting to build a mature SD-WAN offering combined with SDN and a full set of Network Virtulization Functions.
Building on Existing Cisco Infrastructure
was the solution we were looking for. It is a service creation and delivery platform that enables the fast deployment of SD-WAN and other software-based network services. And it works with our existing Cisco equipment.
The icing on the cake was Cisco’s SD-Branch rack-mounted servers based on their Enterprise Network Compute System. The x86-based ENCS is cost-efficient and saves space. It provides agile, on-demand network services for branch offices in a single software and hardware platform that can be deployed in minutes. Purpose-built for multi-tenancy and NFV applications, SD-Branch hardware is centrally managed, easily automated, and scalable. Cisco designed the platform with service providers in mind as part of its MSX solution.
When you’re dealing with technology this innovative and new, you can’t just open a chat window and talk with a CSR. You need access to support staff who really understand the product. Cisco Advanced Services helps businesses transition to new platforms and architectures like SD-WAN.
Cisco Advanced Services’ team has access to the business units that developed the products we were installing. Instead of dealing with the generalists that work a typical help desk, we had direct contact with the programmers who had coded SD-WAN and SD-Branch. Access to this level of expertise greatly facilitated the implementation of this new architecture.
We just completed our MSX installation and have started to onboard potential SD-WAN and SD-Branch customers. Right now, we are still at the trial phase. Our customers are testing out the network and we are helping them with their journey. It’s a little like watching a child growing up. After all, SD-WAN is a fairly recent technology, and customers are just starting to discover its potential.
Adding Value and Ensuring Growth
As I said earlier, SD-WAN does not replace or supplant our dedicated MPLS network, but runs as an overlay using both the MPLS and the internet. It is, therefore, more cost-effective and can result in substantial savings for our customers, especially those who choose to implement a hybrid network model.
For example, a broadcaster can route mission-critical audio and video over the MPLS part of their network, while sending email over the internet using SD-WAN. They can route traffic by application or by priority. More importantly, they don’t need our intervention to do this. We offer a version of our network dashboard that lets our customers monitor and manage all of this themselves.
Riedel has more than 40 points of presence worldwide that are, due to the Cisco MSX platform, SDN- and NFV-ready. Many of these—including Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Sao Paolo, or Zurich—have direct cloud access via cloud exchanges. More will be coming online over the next year. These upgraded facilities will help us to attract new types of business, but they’ll also enable us to offer more to our existing MPLS clients. They won’t have to look elsewhere for SD-WAN services.
If anything, SD-WAN is making our portfolio of networking services more appealing. The more we can offer on top of our existing infrastructure, the likelier we are to bring in new customers and to retain existing ones. SD-WAN is a value-add that will ensure Riedel Networks’ growth.
I project 25–30% annual growth over the next five years. I’m basing these calculations on the success of our existing Hybrid VPN offering that uses the internet as a backup. I believe our customers will find SD-WAN equally attractive, and will experience a similar level of success.
The Road to the Future
This is why I’m happy we went with Cisco MSX. Cisco has been around for decades and has been a stable partner for years. There’s no guarantee that smaller vendors will be around 10 years from now, but I know Cisco will be there in the long run.
In the end, IT is a lot like driving a Formula 1 car, especially for the end user. You may be alone in the cockpit, but when you press that button to start your engine, there’s a whole team behind you. The pit crew mechanics and the factory engineers have your back. You are connected to them by radio and via the many sensors on your car.
The road to victory may depend on your driving skills, but winning the checkered flag requires up-to-the-minute data and seamless communication. Adopting a new technology like SD-WAN doesn’t guarantee a win, but it gives you the infrastructure that you and your team need to make it to the finish line.