Smooth Sailing with Silver Peak at SolarWinds

When Michael Bishop, senior network engineer with SolarWinds, was tasked with upgrading the IT Management company’s global network, the goals included improving network management and visibility while lowering the costs of its legacy MPLS infrastructure. Bishop says the company accomplished all of that and more by deploying the Silver Peak Unity EdgeConnect™ software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) edge platform.

After deploying EdgeConnect at all of the company’s 30 branch offices, Bishop says that SolarWinds has increased networking visibility, provided full intelligent failover, and has drastically lowered network costs by eliminating almost all of its expensive MPLS circuits. This will result in savings of more than $500,000 USD over three years, said Bishop.

“With our legacy network, we had redundancy, but we couldn’t prioritize traffic. We had dual ISPs at all of our offices, but we couldn’t use both circuits actively and we couldn’t do any type of intelligent failover. Those are the things we were looking at with SD-WAN.”

SolarWinds’ move to SD-WAN reflects how modern software-based orchestration of network resources can simplify management and improve network agility. It is reflective of the trend away from “box management” of legacy routing systems, which often require detailed manual on-site configuration.

For example, Bishop said that Silver Peak technology has replaced nearly all of the Cisco branch-office routers the company was using, primarily because they were difficult to manage. SolarWinds was initially using Cisco routing technology to create a mesh of VPNs, but Bishop found this approach opaque and it required more granular management.

“Silver Peak is very easy to deploy and centrally manage,” said Bishop. “We can turn up a new site very easily. We were completely rolled out in under twelve weeks. It was incredibly fast. We worked out a lot of the details of the setup. Once that was hashed out, we had a repeatable process in place. 

Testing and Validation

When SolarWinds started evaluating SD-WAN technology, Bishop knew the company needed something for the long haul. Automation, visibility, and ease-of-use were key. Some of the other solutions that Bishop looked at were too complicated and difficult to install, including Cisco’s Viptela technology, which it had acquired just prior to SolarWinds’ evaluation.

The company evaluated 3-4 well known SD-WAN technology vendors and a managed service. It decided to go with a do it yourself (DIY) solution to provide flexibility. The deployment started about two years ago and went smoothly, with all 30 sites deployed in about 12 weeks.

When evaluating the solutions, Bishop said the Silver Peak EdgeConnect platform won with its network visibility, management and ease-of-use features.

One of big surprises in the deployment was the performance during testing. Bishop said the initial proof of concept (POS) included deployments to several branches, where network performance was measure using mean opinion scores (MOS) that measure quality of experience. The improvement was an eye-opener.

“We ran extensive MOS score testing at each of our POC locations, and they all saw MOS scores improve. That was good validation for the unified communications (UC) team that this was going to be a win for them. They were very hesitant to move off of MPLS, but the numbers don’t lie.”

That has resulted in increased network reliability, even when the applications are using primarily internet-based circuits rather than MPLS.

SolarWinds also configured the EdgeConnect platform with optional Unity Boost™ WAN optimization. Boost had a major impact on remote development teams accessing Microsoft SQL Server data, thanks to data compression of up to 98 percent.

“Site uptime has improved to almost 100%,” says Bishop. “Brownouts don’t happen anymore. Silver Peak can detect a link that’s not having good throughput and automatically send traffic to another ISP.”

Now, Bishop says that Silver Peak is standard deployment in new offices or in branch-office reconfigurations. He likes the functionality of the Unity Orchestrator™, which is centrally managed from the cloud. From a business perspective, development productivity has improved and the rollout of SD-WAN functionality in branch locations now happens in about 30-minutes.

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