Citrix NetScaler SD-WAN is a scalable, SD-WAN product combining WAN virtualization, WAN optimization, edge routing, firewall capabilities, VPN, centralized control, and end-to-end application visibility. Developed in software first and foremost, it is available in both software/virtual and hardware appliance versions. Enterprises are using NetScaler SD-WAN to introduce software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) into their WAN, rendering it more scalable, cost-effective, and ready to connect to the cloud, while ensuring strong application performance.
In this interview, Karl Brown, senior director of product management for the Citrix NetScaler SD-WAN platform, talks about Citrix’s approach to SD-WAN.
SDxCentral: Why did Citrix decide to launch a managed SD-WAN product?
Karl Brown: If you look closely at the SD-WAN market, you’ll see that IT is transitioning from having deep technical knowledge in many areas to having to analyze and make business decisions that support broader business initiatives of the company. The ability to support all the different technologies and applications that are deployed within the enterprise is challenging for teams that are now increasingly tasked with providing business outcomes. At the same time, IT budgets are shrinking, so there’s continued pressure to reduce specific internal IT team resources. As a result, customers have begun to look for external expertise to help them make decisions, deploy technology solutions, and manage those solutions on an ongoing basis.
Our entrance into the market also stems from conversations we’ve had with our customers. They’re saying, “We love your product. We have a great relationship with this carrier or that service provider, so we would love for you to work together to provide us with a turnkey solution incorporating your product that would help us in transitioning to an SD-WAN.” We believe we have a strong technology that is proven across many verticals, and so we want to address our customers’ needs. These are trends that the analyst community has identified and that have been vetted out in our customer conversations.
How is Citrix ideal for this market?
Today, there are more than 400,000 enterprise customers that rely on Citrix virtualized apps and desktop solutions to deliver applications. Over the course of our 25-year history, we’ve realized that it’s not enough to just virtualize those applications; we have to help enterprises deliver the best experience to their users. We have a broad portfolio of application networking solutions to help those customers deliver applications whether they’re in the data center or in the cloud or transitioning to software-as-a-service (SaaS)—and delivering them in context to the user, reliably, securely, and efficiently.
Specifically, as it relates to SD-WAN, our product was developed with that philosophy in mind: We’re going to deliver enterprise applications—many of which are real-time applications such as voice, or interactive applications such as virtualized apps and desktops—and our solution needs to meet the needs of those real-time and interactive applications across the WAN. That’s challenging prospect for real-time interactive apps versus something like a file transfer or casual web browsing, and we’ve approached it from that standpoint.
Why is managed SD-WAN such a popular option for enterprises?
What it comes down to is they would rather deploy their IT resource into other areas and not have to have people dedicated to supporting the WAN. Also, it’s because the technology within the WAN is changing. It used to be that applications were hosted in the data center, there was a router sitting at the branch, and there was an MPLS connection back to the data center. Now, applications can be delivered from a public cloud provider such as Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS), and the enterprise might choose to use a SaaS application versus an internal application; in that scenario, your WAN border becomes grayed because delivering users’ connections to those workloads properly is complex and requires new skills that an enterprise IT staff might not have. The enterprise then has to make a business decision whether to build up those skill sets or use resources to analyze various options and find the right solution. For a class of customers that can’t afford a large IT team, it makes sense to go to a service provider with experience building bespoke solutions, and then manage that solution.
Many service providers will bundle equipment, management services, and WAN services into one monthly bill. That’s a financially attractive option for a certain class of customers because you’ve taken what was once a large capital investment and converted that into almost all OPEX.
What are some of the benefits of managed SD-WAN versus DIY?
Probably the biggest reason is this: With the managed approach, an enterprise customer can look to a partner that has deployed these solutions many times and has expertise in deploying and managing an SD-WAN. Because the service provider has already become comfortable with the capabilities of a vendor’s products, it can work with the enterprise and say, “Based on your application mix, your needs, the locations of your branches, I’m going to recommend this particular vendor’s solution, and—by the way—we have a lot of experience deploying and managing this solution for other customers.”
Another benefit is, when there’s a problem, the enterprise can simply call the service provider and ask for help. The provider has primary responsibility, end to end—from the appliance at the branch location, to the underlying WAN services that have been selected, to many other elements in the network. It’s incumbent on the service provider to help resolve the problem. And the enterprise isn’t forced to essentially referee the finger-pointing that might otherwise occur.
Finally, a service provider can create best-of-breed solutions by taking one vendor’s solution and marrying it with different WAN services, for example. It’s not an off-the-shelf service, but many service providers will deliver that kind of bespoke yet managed solution.
SDxCentral: Is managed SD-WAN a good option if I have a large in-house IT staff?
Karl Brown: In many cases, large enterprises will continue to need a depth of internal IT talent. At a certain scale, it might be cheaper to do things internally; however, Citrix is happy to provide these large enterprises with a choice of how they consume SD-WAN.
It’s really Fortune 1000 to Fortune 2000 companies that are faced with the challenges of globalization and competing with large enterprises that have scale. Some of these entities are selecting managed service providers to help them transition to a software-defined WAN.
How is the Citrix SD-WAN product different from other offerings in the market?
First of all, our approach is to let enterprises decide what’s best for them in terms of consumption—whether they want to do it themselves, or work with a network service provider, or fashion a bespoke managed solution. We’re enabling all three approaches: We have service providers that incorporate our solutions, we work with a number of managed service providers that have built bespoke solutions for their customers, and we have a number of DIY customers who have incorporated the Citrix solution as part of a reinvention or re-architecture of their WAN.
As to why an enterprise might select our technology as the basis of its SD-WAN approach? What it comes down to is this: We can deliver real-time and interactive applications more reliably and more efficiently than any other vendor solution. We’ve chosen an approach that lets us move application traffic around within hundredths of milliseconds, whereas many other solutions take tens of seconds or more to adapt to changing network conditions. That’s very powerful for our customers who have real-time and interactive applications.
We’ve added extensions to better support communications solutions such as VoIP and video communications tools such as Skype for Business, where we can ensure the highest-quality connections by incorporating unique packet-duplication technology.
Obviously, as part of the broader Citrix portfolio, NetScaler SD-WAN is uniquely able to deliver the XenApp and XenDesktop applications across the WAN with a better user experience—and more efficiently—than other solutions are capable of doing.
Our solution is complete, incorporating routing, firewall, path control, and WAN optimization all in one appliance package that can be controlled through one central management tool—a very efficient way to define policies and have those policies pushed out across a fleet of 10, 100, or 1,000+ devices.
Finally, it is designed with cloud migration in mind. The Citrix SD-WAN solution is compatible with the application migration journey that many customers are on, and that’s where we will deliver even more innovation in the SD-WAN space.