Like many other SD-WAN providers, Zenlayer began dipping its toes into SD-WAN as a way to modernize its traditional networking products. It saw the need for instantly provisioned dedicated networks between data centers and clouds — or what it calls the “middle mile” — and built an SD-WAN product to address it.
Zenlayer was founded in 2014 to provide colocation and managed hosting products to U.S. companies that wanted to go into China and to Chinese companies that wanted to go overseas. The hosting provider noticed that its enterprise customers were looking for more instant provisioning services, so it developed three software-defined services — a bare metal cloud, an edge computing service, and an SD-WAN service called Zenlink.
The SD-WAN was developed primarily using open source software. Zenlayer maintains its ties with the open source community. It joined the Linux Foundation in January of this year to promote SDN and NFV development.
Zenlayer has around 90 data centers around the world. According to Dalerie Wu, Zenlayer’s senior marketing director, the SD-WAN platform has nodes in about 25 of those data centers with plans to expand to the data centers in “major metropolitan areas around the world.”
Zenlayer SD-WAN is focused on the “middle mile,” said Wu. “So our SD-WAN connects data centers primarily. Our sweet spot is connecting your data centers in China to your data center in the U.S.”
While the company does connect to branches, Wu described this as a limited-basis case and something that requires a bit of time to provision. Whereas, with the boxes already in the data centers it’s connecting, Zenlayer can offer instantaneous connections on this middle-mile.
The middle mile is something that Joe Zhu, Zenlayer’s founder and CEO, sees in the future of SD-WAN. “As 5G and IoT develop, there will more demand for high quality network connections, particularly in the middle-mile,” he said. “Because 5G solves the last-mile problem, but cross-geography connections still have to rely on fiber optic cables.”
Zenlink offers direct connections and a dedicated network to meet the network needs of 5G and IoT, Zhu continued. The company has purchased MPLS circuits from global Tier 1 carriers to make these accessible, and it has dedicated connections to public clouds. These clouds include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Tencent Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud.
Zenlayer also said that its differentiating factor is its ability to “burst” with its service to meet peak network demands. Wu said that a number of its customers work with gaming and streaming services and “the demand is unpredictable.” The bursting feature allows customers to automatically self-provision dedicated circuits to instantly receive extra-capacity during short-term surges.
Currently, Zenlink is billed by month but the company hopes to be able to bill these bursts by day, and eventually by hour.
While Zenlink is a relatively new service, Zenlayer has been adding data center locations and capacity to grow the SD-WAN. It also added a feature that allows customers to define custom routing rules, and it continues to enhance its integrations with the other Zenlayer software-defined products, particularly its edge computing platform as Zenlayer continues to develop it.