Tennessee Oncology: Cleaning up the WAN with Silver Peak

Sometimes it just comes down to simple economics: You can try to stretch your existing infrastructure to adapt to changing business requirements at a high cost, or you can go with next-generation technology to gain both efficiency and agility.

Tennessee Oncology found that by implementing the Unity EdgeConnect™ SD-WAN platform from Silver Peak, it could realize all the benefits of the cloud with a business-first SD-WAN – at the same time uncovering serious flaws with its existing WAN architecture — at a substantially reduced cost of using a traditional router-centric branch-office WAN approaches.

“We initially started discussions with Cisco using a traditional router architecture and the initial estimates were astronomical — the Silver Peak platform was probably one-third of the cost,” said David Stewart, the Chief Information Officer (CIO), on the healthcare provider’s move to software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) technology. “And we no longer need somebody familiar with BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) routing and all the complexities of managing routers.”

But it wasn’t just about hardware and software costs. The organization was also looking to streamline its operations, get increased applications control, and upgrade its WAN circuit infrastructure.  Tennessee Oncology had four specific goals in mind: 1) Cloud-based management 2) Better visibility into application traffic. 3) Ability to implement better WAN failover 4) Lower opex and capex. The search was on for a next-generation WAN solution that didn’t involve expensive device-centric management and routers.

As Stewart points out, the timing was right to move to SD-WAN. The pricing of broadband internet has come down substantially, making it a compelling alternative to leased lines – with the potential to boost performance. In addition, cloud initiatives were driving the need to provide users direct and secure access to cloud applications.

“We knew we had to do something to get stratification of the different traffic,” said Stewart. ” We needed to separate application vs. Google search traffic. And we were making a rapid shift to SaaS providers so we needed the ability to classify those to match up with our business needs.”

What’s interesting is that when Stewart and, infrastructure manager Robert Holloway, delved deeper into the network and all their existing leased lines, what they found wasn’t pretty.

“The move to SD-WAN opened up our eyes tremendously. We found out that [some of our circuits] were terrible.”

They found that many T-1 lines weren’t even functioning properly, either because they were dirty, bonded incorrectly, and/or providing low bandwidth. And, dealing with service providers was not easy, and in some cases, it required weeks to clean up the circuits.

In other words, the move to SD-WAN uncovered an entirely new benefit: Using internet broadband to supplement, and in some cases even replace, more expensive and unreliable private lines.

Since moving to the SD-WAN solution from Silver Peak, Stewart noticed that the business runs a lot smoother, especially with automatic circuit failovers — which used to be a manual process that might take hours and leave end users frustrated.

“It’s improved significantly. We have had a couple circuit outages that have gone totally unnoticed. We’ve even had circuit outages from the data center that went unnoticed. Even voice calls can actually survive a circuit failure. Voice used to be a real issue, but we have much tighter control now.”

Tennessee Oncology is expanding its EdgeConnect SD-WAN deployment right now and has deployed 18 of a total 24 sites so far. Stewart and Holloway described the deployment as relatively straightforward, taking about 30 minutes to configure each SD-WAN appliance out of the box using automated software features. He expects the rest of the deployment to go smoothly.

“The SD-WAN side is about as close to set it and forget it as I’ve ever seen,” said Robert Holloway, Tennessee Oncology’s Infrastructure Manager.