Silver Peak was one of seven companies brave enough to demo their product in front of the Network Field Day delegates and the rest of the networking world at NFD11 in January. Silver Peak has a decade long history of providing WAN solutions focusing primarily on WAN optimization. That focus on WAN technology makes them a natural fit to enter the SD-WAN space and their SD-WAN product is exactly what they were showing off at NFD11.
The Silver Peak SD-WAN solution is named Unity EdgeConnect and consists of X86 based software that can run on commodity hardware or virtual form factors. Like most SD-WAN products, the primary goal of the solution is to abstract multiple sources of WAN bandwidth and provide intelligent decision-making regarding which paths WAN traffic should take. Rather than spending time here detailing every feature the EdgeConnect product offers, I’m going to focus on a couple of key features that piqued my interest. By no means does this indicate weakness in the areas I am not writing about. If you are interested in a more holistic view of the product offering, I highly recommend you watch the presentation here and check out the product information that can be found on the Silver Peak website.
So what makes Silver Peak stand out from the competition in the SD-WAN space?
Number 1 on this list has to be the strength and history in WAN optimization that is baked into this solution. Silver Peak has been making WAN traffic efficient since 2005 with their NX/VX optimization line of products and the integration of this technology into their SD-WAN product is seamless. Optimization is targeted at two specific areas of WAN traffic; latency mitigation and data deduplication. While service chaining could enable WAN optimization to be integrated into any SD-WAN solution, having that optimization built-in to the product is a strong differentiator from many of their competitors.
Silver Peak calls their optimization feature Unity Boost and it is an option that is licensed by the amount of bandwidth you are optimizing. This means that you can provide optimization only on links where it makes sense and you don’t need to license it for your entire deployment.
The other feature that really stood out was how Unity EdgeConnect implements a technology called Forward Error Correction (FEC). At the heart of the matter, Silver Peak uses a series of progressively aggressive reactions to packet loss on the network. Starting with the introduction of, and then the ramping up of, parity packets on lossy links, all the way to enabling 1-1 parity across different links. Yes, you read that correctly… one of the corrective actions it will take is essentially duplicating your data (although not a 1-1 copy, but rather a 1-1 parity) across different links and rebuilding the flow at the other end of the connection. Silver Peak EdgeConnect is in a very small group of SD-WAN solution brave enough to implement per-packet load balancing in order to enable the separation and then re-sequencing of data flows across multiple paths.
There isn’t enough space in this post to deep dive into the merits and risks associated with per-packet load balancing (maybe a topic for another day) but the idea is intriguing and there are certainly benefits as it relates to reliable delivery of data. It may not always the best solution for real-time flows like voice, due to the queuing mechanism required to make it work, but on standard data flows it aims to make brown-out style loss on multiple links nearly transparent to the end-user. Silver Peak appears to understand the inherit risk with some of the more aggressive FEC mechanisms and gives engineers the ability to tune the level of aggressiveness they want on an overlay-by-overlay basis. This strikes a nice balance between giving engineers the tools that they need with allowing them to make decisions about how the network should operate.
The product looks solid on all fronts and speaks to all of the key points when considering a SD-WAN implementation. That being said, the SD-WAN space is getting pretty crowded and strong differentiators are going to be what separates the survivors from the companies who fail or get bought up. It’s clear that Silver Peak knows that its intellectual property in WAN optimization is its strength when it comes to the SD-WAN ecosystem but only time will tell if that differentiator is enough to lead customers to make buying decisions.
I was invited to participate as a delegate at Network Field Day (NFD). The companies that present content at NFD pay to do so and those funds are used to pay for airfare, accommodations, and food for the delegates during the event. That being said, I am under no obligation to provide content (positive or otherwise) about the organizations who funded the event or the products and services they discussed with us. You can be assured that the above content is my honest opinion and is not sponsored content in any way.