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Automating the Wide Area Network - Why you Need an SD-WAN

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Category: Blog

Evolving Networks Delivers 2,000th SD-WAN Installation

Evolving Networks, the UKs SD-WAN vendor has deployed its 2,000th SD-WAN.

Formed in 2008 by Nick Johnson and Nic Elliott, to deliver software enhanced, resilient internet connections for UK businesses, Evolving Networks counts the NHS, Bulk Powders, Rank and Cisco amongst its customers.

In mid-October a solution was delivered taking to 2,000 the count of installations achieved since inception.

Commenting on the milestone, Nick Johnson (CEO) said “It’s been a fantastic journey so far. We’re blessed with a great customer list and a great technical solution, but our key strength is the team we’ve built over the last ten years. The really exciting thing is our key message about resilience is gaining real traction right now and we are growing faster than ever – the next ten years are going to be even more exciting.”

The installation that breached the 2,000 mark was for Erith Contractors, bringing a resilient SD-WAN built on multiple 4G services to remote construction sites.

Nic Elliott is Evolving Networks CTO: “This is obviously an exciting milestone for us and personally I’m really pleased the installation that took us over the line was with a long standing and important customer in Erith, but also integrating 4G cellular services. We embraced SDN early, and my team has built an integrated ecosystem from the ground up including the UK’s only multi-VNO Access Network, our in house developed Intelligent Network Fabric software and a sophisticated monitoring, AI and feedback system that performs a more advanced and resilient role than any standard SD-WAN orchestrator.

The nice thing about this particular installation is our software is providing the benefits of agility, resilience and increased throughput to locations with no fixed line connectivity, proving we really can deliver anywhere”.

Matt Harper, IT Director for Erith said “We’ve been working with Evolving Networks for some time. The technology is great, but what really sets them apart is the level of technical and account management support we get. That makes a real difference to our ability as an IT team to support our business. In fact, we have recently signed to migrate two of our core offices over to resilient multi-gigabit leased line connectivity with Evolving Networks”.

With a growing order book and customer base, Evolving Networks have recently increased the size of both their sales team and R&D investment to continually develop new innovations for Enterprise and SMEs in the SD-WAN space.


About Evolving Networks

Evolving Networks is a market leading SDN provider, and a UK tech success story, fusing proprietary software technology with connectivity to create agile, resilient and intelligent connections. The Evolving Networks ecosystem brings together the UK’s only multi-VNO Access Network with their Intelligent Network Fabric to deliver high bandwidth, resilient, multipath Ethernet connections – anywhere, over any tail technology. This unique approach delivers internet connectivity and SD-WAN as a Service to tens of thousands of workers across the UK and is trusted by the NHS, CSC, BAE Systems and Capita.

Evolving Networks or Big Tech – who should you work with?

“No one gets fired for buying Cisco”.  Fear, uncertainty, doubt.  Change.  I wonder how much money is being spent right now by IT Directors who want to embrace a new way of working, who want to make their network more responsive, more agile and more cost effective, but who, when it comes to the crunch, run home to what they know.

Cisco know this of course. It’s why they spent the money to acquire Viptela.  They get to be the perfect combination of cutting edge and safe solidity.

By taking SD-WAN mainstream in this way they are driving the adoption of the concepts of resilience and flexibility, and that can only be a good thing.

But there is a catch, and that comes in the guise of the UK infrastructure, and the inevitable disconnect between software designed and built in Silicon Valley, and networks built and operated on the other side of the Atlantic.

The market for connectivity in the US is different to the UK.  They have not had a race to the bottom on price, and the inevitable knock-on effect on quality.  They haven’t had to keep trying to squeeze every last drop of performance out of 100-year-old infrastructure.

Buy a business ADSL service in the US and you could easily pay $100 per month for it.  And it would be good.  10mbps upload, low latency, no jitter, and if it breaks it will break – none of the gradual degradation in service that we have to deal with in the UK.

There’s nothing wrong with this situation, it’s just how it is, I’m not passing comment either way.  But – and here is the point – in different situations you write different software.

Software designed and built in the US, by Americans with American infrastructure in mind, will not deal effectively with the unique challenges of the UK infrastructure.

And I’m not just talking about the challenges of Cisco software and “Good Honest Yorkshire Broadband” either.  The BT and Nuage alliance has yet to take off.  With the best will in the world taking someone else’s software, software designed to orchestrate network level events, and sticking it on top of a network that has been built with something else entirely in mind, is going to be challenging at any time.

And that’s just looking at it from a network perspective.  How about from a customer point of view?

Imagine you go to your CEO and tell her you can save 20% or more on your MPLS.  Great! Do it.   But when you are stuck between software supplier, datacentre partner, and two or three ISPs, how do you know where the problem is when your Cardiff office can’t hear the other end of a voice call, or “the internet is slow” for the guys in Bracknell?

This disconnect between software and network layers is a real problem, whoever you are.

You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of multiple suppliers all pointing at each other, and that’s where you will be if you deal directly with a Silicon Valley giant.  But let’s be clear, even if you opt to deal with a UK based VAR or reseller, THEY will still be having the same problem.

So, don’t just shift the headache on to someone else.  Just because you can shout at them when the Runcorn office has a problem with their broadband, they will just be managing the same problems – either dealing with ISPs who don’t understand the issue, or trying to wrangle software dev teams in a different company and time zone, and be a small voice themselves amongst competing customers.

This is a real threat to the adoption of SD-WAN in the UK, and it’s something we are genuinely concerned about.  If SD-WAN is done badly it will get a poor reputation, will be a massive opportunity missed, and it could take 10 years for the UK to catch up again.

Evolving Networks are unique.  We write the software and we deliver the connectivity.  We’ve been doing it for more than a decade.  Full service, fully managed, SD-WAN as a Service – call it what you will.

Eleven years and counting.  Developing software, building a multi-VNO network, creating the most advanced monitoring and orchestration ecosystem in the industry.  It’s here, and it works – right now.  We have over 2,000 installations under our belt, and all built on the power of the UKs leading ISP and datacentre providers.

If you want to realise the benefits of SD-WAN you need to be talking to us.  One supplier, one resilient SD-WAN solution.

Why service providers are struggling to implement SD-WAN

SD-WAN, and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) more generally, is a game changer.  The rules have been torn up.  An SD-WAN looks nothing like a regular WAN.

This requires a change in mindset and that’s causing a problem for people across the industry.

Those running IT functions have less of a leap to make.  They’re focussed on delivering value for their users and the wider business and will use any technical means to do so.  Every survey of IT decision makers and managers shows a growing desire to explore what SD-WAN can do for them.

But service providers (ISPs – those with network infrastructure), are struggling – and here is why I think that is.

ISPs, in common with most industries, have a business investment cycle.  Either they have a rolling programme of changes and upgrades to network equipment, and (if they are growing) bandwidth upgrades to cope with increase in demand, or every few years they invest millions in a complete overhaul of their equipment.

Sometimes this involves building a completely new network, in parallel to their existing one, and porting over customers individually or in large batches, and eventually decommissioning the aging, legacy network.

The business cycle results in disruption (when a migration doesn’t go quite according to plan, or when an upgrade fails), and in fluctuations in quality (great after the investment, less so when those assets are sweated and the Finance guys delay the next upgrade as long as possible).

But more importantly, it results in repetition – doing the same thing, over and over again.

It’s the least risky thing to do isn’t it?  It worked last time, and the company is still here, so lets just do it again, but with better kit.

But this time, the change driven by SDN is so huge that none of the service providers are ready for it.  And the bigger they are the more entrenched in traditional ways of networking, and investing in that network, they are.

In the past, upgrades in technology have been about how fast something is, or how much capacity it has.  With every network upgrade has come a smaller footprint of hardware, with more capability.

That’s great, but never has it addressed a fundamental issue with networks, and that’s the potential to disaggregate the software from the hardware.

Ok, I can tell I’m starting to lose you now – but here’s why it’s such an important message, and one communication providers the world over are struggling with.

Up until now, the software and hardware come together.  Think of buying an iPhone – It’s inconceivable you would separate the software and hardware – it all comes from Apple in one integrated package.

But SDN and SD-WAN is about separating those two elements, and to great effect.

Creating a level of abstraction between the hardware (which as a result can be cheap and cheerful, and unbranded) and the software (where all the control is) means you can create a network, and networking products, that can scale almost infinitely.

No ties to particular, expensive brands of hardware, or particular types of circuit, yet the power to change topology on a whim, and add resilience and QoS where they were difficult or non-existent before.

And so, service providers are reluctant to make that leap.  To completely tear up their network, and their existing supplier relationships, and to start afresh.  To invest in a network of cheap hardware, knowing they can run any software they like on it, and keep scaling up.

Which brings me to my final observation.  The software.  It’s not being written by the service providers.

And this is their greatest weakness.  ISPs need to become software houses.  They need to write their own networking software, not use other people’s.  They need to build value, and not be tied to any third party.  And they need to do it because no one else is going to bridge the gap between their customers and their network.

Providers that write their own software, rather that licencing it from abroad, are going to have a huge advantage over the competition in the coming decade and beyond.

Sure, some service providers will eventually take the leap and install generic hardware, and then run someone else’s software on it – and that will be a step in the right direction.  But they will still have that disconnect, and that lack of power.

Until service providers write their own software for their own network, they will never quite realise the enormous benefits of SD-WAN.

Resilience at Every Level

Being online in this connected world is becoming more and more important, and businesses are starting to recognise there is a way of eliminating downtime, allowing staff to keep on working.

It’s fundamental isn’t it?  Almost every system we interact with, and certainly the ones your business will move to in the coming few years, need to be connected to the internet.

That’s one of the reasons SD-WAN is on the rise.

SD-WAN is all about staying online.

What’s the point of prioritising your VoIP traffic if you are offline and can’t make any calls?

Why spend all that money on a high bandwidth leased line, if you can’t ensure you can always use that bandwidth?

That’s where we need to embrace the tenets of Software-Defined Networking across the board, with resilience at every level in your business.

We don’t question having staff cover each other when they are on holiday, or sick.  If you regularly buy something important for your business, you probably have diversity of supply.

Planning for failure is a key part of running a business.

And that’s why we took building our ecosystem so seriously.  We wanted to create something that transcended a normal network.  Something fundamentally different from ISP networks the world over.

Resilience at every level, multiple appliances on your site, multiple internet links connected to them, multiple core routers in multiple datacentres.  Different ISPs delivering each link.  Different connectivity technologies too.  Wired and wireless.

THAT’S diversity that can protect your business.

More than one of something for redundancy.  Different types for lowering risk.

When you’re purchasing an SD-WAN, you need to change the way you think about connectivity, and not let yourself get hemmed in with traditional notions of networking.

By creating intelligent, distributed software and pairing it with our multi-VNO access network, Evolving Networks delivers resilient, reliable and agile connectivity for businesses of all sizes.  Let your imagination go a little.  Stop conforming to what network providers tell you is possible in their legacy tech world.

If you want to stay online, you need SD-WAN as a Service from Evolving Networks.

High Availability

In case you’d wondered, we are all about High Availability at Evolving Networks.  It’s at the core of everything we do – keeping businesses online.

With a simple philosophy of using software to make connectivity better, we embraced the power of negative thinking and over-engineering to come up with a unique ecosystem of network and products.  By integrating our software with our CPE and multi-VNO access network we can make your connectivity as resilient as you like.

But is it all about the network?  One aspect long ignored by SD-WAN providers across the globe is of the single point of failure that is your endpoint device.

It’s all very well feeding it with multiple links, from multiple carriers, with multiple tail types.  Do all that and you’ve got a really resilient connection.  But it’s still running through a single box on your premises.

This is where we’ve taken the next step with our technology.  Applying the software overlay to multiple appliances on site.

We’ve always wanted to bring the technology of the datacentre to the edge.  Our Intelligent Network Fabric was always designed to run from customer sites to more than one datacentre.  We have taken the same technology and extended it all the way into your offices.

Instead of a single EVX unit, we can supply two or more, connected up permanently to all onsite links.  If one EVX develops a fault, the next one will immediately kick in.

But unlike old-fashioned methods of failover, our INF is there on each device all the time, able to pass data.  There is no configuration change to move from the primary to secondary EVX.  There is no need for central orchestration or an engineer.  It just works.

High Availability has often been expensive, or complex, so most SD-WAN providers haven’t even tackled it.  If they do, its based on old methods of central automated orchestration rather than superior Active-Active networking.

Hardware resilience is important, and we’ll back it up with an improved SLA for every HA pair of appliances.  The important thing is that you stay online.  Prepare for it now, rather than waiting until it does happen.

2019 Investment – 4 New Staff

As the market for SD-WAN and resilient internet connections continues to grow quickly in the UK, we welcome 4 new members of staff to boost our delivery, sales and support functions.

After recognising the need for businesses to stay online and connect together in a flexible, scalable and cost-effective way with SD-WAN, Evolving Networks have embarked on a new push to expand in order to successfully deliver more and more new customer projects.

We’ve welcomed 4 new Evolvians into our team, who together will augment our Sales, Service Delivery and Technical Support teams.

This is a key investment in what will be a crucial year for SD-WAN, as more and more business leaders and IT professionals come to realise that MPLS has had its day, and that its time to put cumbersome old WAN technologies like VPN in the bin.

In a world replete with software, SD-WAN and all the Evolving Networks software technologies are here to make connectivity better, enabling businesses to specialise in what they do best, serve their customers.

These new hires reflect our commitment to software-defined networking now and into the next decade.  We’re putting our money where our mouth is, and expanding our teams as more and companies choose SD-WAN as a Service.

Everybody hates their VPN

VPNs have been around for a long time.  They have been the de facto way of connecting a small number of offices and sites together until a company is ready for a bigger network strategy.

Part of the reason for their popularity is the low direct cost.  Lots of site to site VPNs are essentially free, or at least have little or no licence costs.  There aren’t many business grade firewalls that don’t have native VPN capability now.

But herein lies the problem.  Firewall manufacturers are security providers.  Bundling VPN technology into a firewall is a tick-box exercise for them.  They aren’t VPN specialists, they just have a list of technologies they need on their compatible features.

Because of that, the VPNs are complex to set up, are flaky and unreliable.

We’ve all been there.

“I can’t open the shared folders any more”

“The MD can’t access the company drives from home”

“the phones have stopped working again”

“why is this file transfer so slow?”

VPNs have become something IT managers have to do, and they do so reluctantly.  They don’t like their VPN, but they can’t afford what is a huge step up to a fully managed WAN.

Importantly, what looks from the outset to be free, turns out to be costly in many other ways.

What this well-worn scenario hides is the fact tunnelling technology has taken several generational leaps forward in recent years.  The ability to encapsulate data and send it somewhere else, securely and yes, easily, is at the heart of the successor product to VPN – SD-WAN.

For more than ten years, we have been providing internet connections that rely on that encrypted tunnelling technology – they are the very network fabric that enables everything that we do.

And it just works.

We realised some time ago that, because we are already tunnelling data between sites for internet use, we can with no extra complexity, tunnel that traffic between sites as wells.  And with no limit.

All the same benefits of our Multipath Ethernet connectivity – zero-touch QoS, bandwidth aggregation, link redundancy – but with your biggest hassle removed: your troublesome VPN.

Our SD-WAN as a Service is a direct VPN replacement service – and for anyone who already has an EVX, it’s a simple matter of routing.

After all, VPNs are just software – and software defined connectivity is what we do best.  If you’re sick of your VPN, speak to us and we’ll talk you through the benefits an SD-WAN can deliver.

SD-WAN QoS is so much better than MPLS

Upgrading to an MPLS network has always been a badge of honour.  Making the leap to, usually, expensive fibre leased lines, away from broadband, connecting your offices together with mystical but often misunderstood technology has until now been seen as the obvious and logical course of action for any maturing network.

But there is a new kid on the block called SD-WAN.  Well, we’ve actually been supplying Software-Defined WAN connections to UK businesses since 2008.  In fact, we are the UK’s only SD-WAN software vendor, with a pedigree going back over 10 years.

With an MPLS link, if you want to protect your mission critical applications there are some clunky and inefficient ways of trying to do it.

You’ll need to fill in some complex forms with your MPLS provider and try to classify your traffic.  This isn’t simple.  You don’t just say to your provider on the phone “I’d like to make sure consumer video streaming services don’t impact my CRM users”.

No, what you end up needing to do is perform that network traffic classification yourself on your router, in order to tag packets ready for the MPLS link.

Then, as long as you’ve been explicit with the MPLS provider about the types of tags that have been set on the packets you are sending, they will honour those priorities (or at least try to) as those packets traverse the provider’s network.

You can only do this one way.  Upload only.  You can’t set any priorities for your download traffic.  This is fire and forget, and hope for the best.

In fact, most MPLS networks installed for UK businesses never have any priority set anywhere.  It’s too cumbersome, customers just rely on the bandwidth of the leased lines being enough (let’s be honest this is more about hope than reliance).

Most businesses aren’t even aware they should expect more from their connectivity.

Why shouldn’t the IT guys be able to run the off-site backup 24/7 while VoIP users make calls?

SD-WAN connections allow businesses to reset their expectations at a much higher level.

Why settle for QoS only on the upload?  SD-WAN gives true, bi-directional QoS so that you can prioritise your download just as much as your upload.

Why must you configure your own complex router to tag packets?  With an SD-WAN connection, those packets are prioritised and queued for you, no matter the sophistication of the router or firewall you have, or your own IT expertise at configuring it.

And then of course, why be restricted to expensive leased lines only?  Sure, with an MPLS network you could have an ADSL or FTTC (if it’s available) instead.  But just one?  Using multiple circuits of different types is the answer, and again only SD-WAN has this ability.

This isn’t some basic load balancing, this is a full logical connection aggregating all the bandwidth of every connection.  So yes, you can have your leased lines where they are needed, but where broadband will suffice, use that instead.  And if you want to increase resilience then just add more circuits of any type.

This is about user experience.  Putting to one side the problems of service outages that are solved by multi-path connectivity, what your users need is consistency.  They need speed.  They need to not even think about connectivity.

Software-Defined WAN connections with their intent-based, zero-touch implementation of QoS are a game changer.  This is the technology that networking has always needed, and its abilities far exceed simple, legacy MPLS.

It’s time to develop a new badge of honour.  It’s time to recognise SD-WAN as the natural successor to MPLS.

Bandwidth Hoggery – Poor Geoff

So, you’ve done it. You’ve pushed the boss to put her hand in her pocket, you’ve waited three months, and its in. Your shiny new leased line. You’ve waited years to be the proud owner of your own dedicated bit of fibre – your business has come of age. You’ve arrived.

Anticipation has been building over the months since the order was placed, your staff are as excited as you are.  The VoIP phone system is ready to be commissioned, a new age of cheap calls, advanced telephony functionality and slick, seamless web browsing and remote application working awaits.

So, why are some blinking phone calls dropping? Why isn’t the call quality always perfect? Who’s more disappointed, you… or the boss?

The truth is, whoever is the most disappointed doesn’t matter. The fact is, it’s usually Geoff’s fault.  Poor Geoff. He needs to download those reports throughout the day to do his job. It’s not his fault they are all at least 200MB and clog up the internet connection.

The truth is they clogged up the old ADSL link, its been his fault all along. The fact that the 100mbps leased line has reduced the time he spends waiting for the files to download and then upload again hasn’t even impressed him very much. It now takes about 10 seconds rather than about 10 minutes – great, that means he hasn’t got an excuse to go have another coffee break.

Meanwhile, everyone else is now using the internet connection to make phone calls, so that 10 seconds it takes to download Geoff’s report – as well as annoying him by curtailing his coffee break flirtations with the lovely Gladys in Accounts – is more than enough time to kill every phone call in the building and kick the Support guys off their remote desktop sessions.

No one’s happy.

In truth there are many reasons why a leased line makes a lot of sense. You might be managing a transition to cloud based working practises, scaling up your workforce or linking to another office.  These are all viable reasons to increase capacity and resilience. But, and this is important, simply throwing bandwidth at the problem isn’t the answer.

We love leased lines, we sell a lot of them, and we deliver leased line capacity up to and beyond 1Gbps.  But we always deliver native, bi-directional Quality of Service with each and every internet connection we supply, leased line or not.

These days files are large, and data is always on the move. It’s perfectly possible to send & receive files that, albeit briefly, clog up the capacity of even the chunkiest leased lines. This is where QoS comes to the fore. By intelligently managing the flow of data over your internet connection, critical data – the time sensitive stuff, like voice calls – is given priority over bulk transfers.

So Geoff’s file might take an extra five seconds to download, or that ZIP file you’re emailing your supplier might take a minute to leave your outbox. These are the things no one notices. Well, maybe Geoff because that’s still not enough extra time to woo the lovely Gladys. The important bit is the sales people don’t get their calls interrupted, the support guys can do their remote desktop sessions, and everyone’s web browsing remains snappy.

QoS delivers happy users. Don’t fall into the trap of believing leased lines alone are the panacea.  And spare a thought for Geoff – he’s just doing his job. Is it really his fault?

Evolving Networks and Vonage Joint Offering Infographic

To support our partnership with Vonage, we’ve come up with a quick infographic which outlines the core strengths of the Evolving Networks connectivity offering, and the technical integration which enables us to work together with Vonage to deliver a compelling unified comms offering to our mutual customers.

Best of breed software vendors, delivering their own services, working together.  No resellers or other third parties involved.

Get in touch today to find out how your business could benefit from intelligent, resilient connectivity supporting your business VoIP.

Download infographic

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