Software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) has become one of the hottest technologies for multi-location enterprises. The technology offers a next-generation access approach that enables digital transformation, drives out cost, and accelerates business strategies. Dell EMC has taken aim at this space with the launch of the Virtual Edge Platform (VEP) 4600 — a purpose-built universal CPE (uCPE) that is optimized for virtual networking and software-defined environments.
In an expansion of Dell’s Open Networking Initiative, the platform is the first to use Intel’s new Xeon D-2100 product family, which offers accelerated encryption and compression functions, along with DPDK for accelerated packet forwarding. With an accompanying suite of SD-Ready Nodes from leading SD-WAN software providers, VEP 4600 is designed to revolutionize SD-WAN deployments for enterprises, and managed service providers looking to cater to them.
In this interview, Jeffrey Baher, Dell EMC’s senior director of product and technical marketing, discusses the launch of the Virtual Edge Platform family, and Dell EMC’s vision of the software-defined enterprise.
SDxCentral: Why is there so much buzz right now about SD-WAN?
Jeffrey Baher: There is a significant shift architecturally as you move from client-server to cloud computing. In the past, everything was predicated on things being on a corporate site, whether on a desktop or in data centers. Clearly now that we’re mobile and devices move around, and we don’t have to go to an office in order to do work, the user in this equation has shifted, figuratively and literally. Meanwhile, resources have moved to become hosted, and we’ve added cloud workloads that aren’t even housed on our own infrastructure. So now we have this topology where workers are connected from many places, to infrastructure that’s spread out, using applications that are delivered from a hosted private cloud or a SaaS provider. The wide area in many ways has become the new LAN. It’s just the meet-point for private or public links, and for everything that is the enterprise, which no longer has a real perimeter.
Because of this shift to everything being distributed, the WAN fundamentally needs to be modernized, advanced, and made smarter, more aware of who’s connecting and to what. This is driving things to become more programmable and defined in software — it’s a natural evolution. First, we software-defined the data center, and now SD-WAN extends this to the rest of the enterprise.
We also need faster connections to get to all of our applications and resources in the cloud, so there’s an economic component to this. Enterprises can’t continually invest in bigger and bigger private links. So primarily, SD-WAN gives them a way to not break the bank because you can use standard broadband connections from the ISP where appropriate.
SDxCentral: Dell EMC has been working on the Open Networking initiative for several years. Please talk about that initiative and what it means for SD-WAN.
The Open Networking initiative focuses on abstracting and decoupling hardware and software networking elements. The goal is to enable an end-to-end, software-defined architecture, where mix-and-match software from innovative third-parties can run on agnostic hardware to help service provider and enterprise customers accelerate their digital transformation initiatives, improve agility, lower costs, and enable new services and applications for faster time to revenue.
The industry is comfortable procuring hardware and adding bring-your-own software on top. But on the networking side, hardware and software have been integrated for years. Open Networking broke that open and allowed disaggregation for top-of-rack, campus environments, data center interconnects – essentially all flavors of switches.
In an extension of the concept, on February 15 we launched the Virtual Edge Platform (VEP) family of universal CPE (uCPE) – SD-WAN is a first use case. It relates to Open Networking because VEP supports the mixing and matching software-defined software and hardware. You can use our switch and run our validated software, or use open-source software or a partner’s software.
SDxCentral: What’s the core innovation in the VEP platform?
We have worked very closely with Intel to incorporate the Xeon D-2100 chipset, which was designed to support data plane-intensive apps. We are the first to take that new chip and deliver it in a system – and the result is the VEP platform.
Our goal is to take general-purpose compute technology towards more specific, networking-centric use cases, while giving customers maximum choice in terms of the software personality they want to attach to the new platform. Because it’s general-purpose, I can virtualize and create more containers and virtual machines. But it’s also optimized to support virtual routing, firewall, load balancing, and other virtual CPE attributes (which is why we term it universal CPE), in addition to the SD-WAN function. It looks like a regular piece of general purpose networking equipment, but because of what Intel has designed, it’s focused on moving packets in and out quickly, and accelerating encryption and compression. It enables a very rich software conversation because of what it can support.
A key element of the design is that this is meant to be future-proof, with the ability add more capabilities down the road, like add-on modules for different connectivity options, or more processor and memory capabilities to load additional services. VEP can do what needs to be done today, but also has the headroom for what lies ahead.
SDxCentral: What are the SD-WAN Ready Nodes and why should they matter to enterprises?
Sometimes customers are leery of buying networking hardware and hardware separately. They think, I just bought this big switch, but who is going to service and support the software I put on it? Ready Nodes address that concern by pre-validating partner software on our platform.
For SD-WAN, we are partnering with three leading SD-WAN software providers to create SD-WAN Ready Nodes for VEP: Versa Networks, Velocloud, and Silver Peak. This gives customers a streamlined, easier procurement and purchasing experience, with the peace of mind that that these things have been tested and validated as working well together. You gain the benefits of disaggregation, and can pick and choose what you want to run, all with a single support call and the backing of our global service and support.
This has especially profound benefits for larger customers. If you’re a large enterprise, you could have thousands of sites, and they could be consuming a large amount of bandwidth, so they want to move to SD-WAN. Retail shops for instance may be ramping up bandwidth needs with multimedia and video installations.
These businesses could end up with a significant amount of new hardware and software when they do that. Sure, you can buy some servers and get some SD-WAN software and start stitching it together, but if you want to do it at scale, it’s hard to do it with what’s out there today. We saw a pretty big un-met need: You don’t want just a white box server approach if you need 100s of them, because the overhead becomes unmanageable – especially when many of these businesses end up behaving like managed service providers for their remote locations.
With VEP and SD-WAN Ready Nodes, large enterprises and service providers can take advantage of a purpose-built, ready-to-go platform with validated software that’s future-ready. They can deploy it anywhere around the world, and it takes away the hassle of standing up the capabilities they need on a location-by-location basis. At that scale, that they start to appreciate the readiness of this offering.
SDxCentral: How is all of this changing the way SD-WAN is being deployed?
Our breakthrough approach gives a big shot in the arm to the use case around SD-WAN. A lot of the conversation out there is around the software-defined part of the opportunity, not so much the hardware piece. We’re the platform and enabler for the SD-WAN function, and will be for many other virtual, universal CPE capabilities.
Universal CPE is important, but it needs to be purpose-built with the foundational elements necessary to support changing enterprise and service provider needs. We’re not just a start up. We feel that we add legitimacy to the shift to this class of platform, which offers consistent performance for SD-WAN and other advanced, software-defined functions, irrespective of the software you choose to supply those functions.
The VEP 4600 delivers this. It’s purpose-built for networking, with a high level of performance: The Intel Xeon D has 1.5X speed of prior-generation processors, so it accelerates packet processing and encryption. It’s also future-ready, not just for SD-WAN but additional VNFs, including deep packet inspection, routing, firewalls and more. And it offers validated software choices thanks to the Ready Nodes we created with SD-WAN leaders, with components that are integrated, and reference-architecture-tested. VEP simply offers a tremendous advantage for those looking to build a next-gen access platform.