BT Teams With Cisco for SD-WAN Service

The British telco is using Cisco's iWAN technology as the foundation for its new Connect Intelligence IWAN managed service.


British telecommunications firm BT Group is using technology from Cisco Systems to add software-defined WAN to its list of managed services.

BT's Connect Intelligence IWAN is based on Cisco's iWAN, the networking giant's software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) product. The new service, which integrates the iWAN offering into BT's Connect portfolio of network services, will enable customers to improve network traffic performance and gain better visibility into their applications without needing more bandwidth, according to company officials.

Such capabilities are the promise of SD-WAN, a fast-growing market in which established networking vendors like Cisco and a range of smaller companies are trying to gain greater traction. Enterprise use of the cloud to deliver applications and services is growing, and increasingly mobile workers are demanding better wireless Internet access. Service providers and businesses are looking to SD-WAN as a solution, either as a complement to or replacement of Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) or other routes.

Gartner analysts predict that by the end of 2019, 30 percent of enterprises will use SD-WAN products in all of their branches. Currently, fewer than 1 percent do. IHS Infonetics noted in a report in November 2015 that the first half of the year saw the SD-WAN space becoming more established.

"The SD-WAN market is still small, but many startups and traditional WAN optimization appliance vendors and network vendors have jumped in," Cliff Grossner, research director for data center, cloud and software-defined networking (SDN) at IHS, said in a statement at the time.

BT's Connect Intelligence IWAN is part of a larger strategy by the telco to expand the use of SDN and network-functions virtualization (NFV) in its infrastructure, a move that other carriers and service providers are embracing.

"For years, we have … been adding 'intelligence' to the network services we provide to our customers," Keith Langridge, vice president of network services at BT Global Services, said in a statement. "NFV and SDN are part of that drive, and aim at making those services more dynamic and automated. They pave the way for a new generation of services that are quicker and easier to set up and change."

Langridge called the new SD-WAN service an "important new building block" in BT's network virtualization efforts, adding that "it will help our customers all over the world deal much more effectively with ever increasing bandwidth and traffic optimization demands."

The first version of the service will offer virtual private network (VPN) capabilities across sites worldwide that use different transport technologies, officials said. Customers will be able to reduce costs by interconnecting remote sites through multiple options—including MPLS VPNs, the Internet and mobile devices—in a hybrid fashion and use encryption technology when transferring data. In addition, applications can automatically be routed via the best path in this hybrid network, based on real-time analysis of network performance.

Application performance also will be faster, which will mean improved productivity and an improved user experience, and the combination of increased application visibility and analytics will give customers greater insights in the performance of their applications and network. Plus, it will mean enhanced monitoring and incident management services by BT, officials said.

BT also will offer a fully managed IWAN service that will include design, setup and configuration, as well as monthly reports on network and application performance.

Cisco and BT have been selling the managed service to customers around the world since December, and in the near future customers with the right hardware will be able to get a free 90-day trial of Connect Intelligence IWAN service.

BT is not the only telco that is using Cisco's iWAN technology in its infrastructures. Verizon also is leveraging the product as part of its SDN and NFV efforts.

Cisco officials see a significant opportunity in SD-WAN, even beyond its own iWAN product. The company earlier this month was among the investors in the recent $27 million that SD-WAN vendor VeloCloud Networks raised. In September 2015, Cisco issued its "SD-WAN Bill of Rights" to help guide businesses in their decision-making.