This is not the case with Edgewater Networks. They started out with an edge router for VoIP, and over the years they’ve enhanced it to offer many features of SD-WAN.
Today I’d like to share an email interview I conducted with Chris Kolstad, VP of Product Management at Edgewater, in which we compare Edgewater’s approach to the other vendors in the space.
Welcome Chris. Thanks for joining me. Let me jump right in.
From a technical standpoint it seems that the main benefits of SD-WAN for voice service providers are:
1. Ease of use as compared to traditional routers
2. Significant quality of service benefits that are primarily reliant on a “cloud gateway” that monitors and adjusts the RTP streams that traverse the network between the business LAN and the service provider.
From what I understand Edgewater has a different approach to the quality of service piece – you don’t use a cloud gateway, is that right?
Yes, that’s correct. Our SD-WAN solution is geared toward the end customers who are not trying to replace or supplement an MPLS connection. It is geared at the customers who call their WAN connection their Internet connection namely Small and Medium Enterprises.
“Traditional” SD-WAN vendors operate at Layer 2 and 3. Their products are a cost effective, efficient way for an Enterprise to replace or augment MPLS and manage a corporate WAN. With the multiple functions in our EdgeMarc Intelligent Edges, including routing, traffic shaping and Enterprise Session Border Control (eSBC), Edgewater Networks is able to work at layer 7 to offer connectivity, resilience and application prioritization in our SD-WAN product.
Our Intelligent Edges constantly monitor the health of network links and service quality for SIP and other applications to provide the best path for packets of high priority traffic. In this way, we are able to provide a single ended solution that is much more cost effective and bandwidth efficient than the “traditional” SD-WAN vendors.
So how is your product different from a traditional router?
Edgewater Networks was founded around the time that the first business VoIP services were hitting the market. We realized early on that instead of simple traffic shaper, we were building a service demarcation point that would need to have routing, NAT and DHCP, eSBC, firewall and more all in a single device. Our EdgeMarc Intelligent Edges have all of these functions and are configured and monitored by our cloud-based EdgeView Service Control Center. We call our approach Network Edge Orchestration.
In my previous article I listed out a variety of features that allow SD-WAN to improve VoIP quality, including prioritization, path selection, packet duplication/cloning and forward error correction.
Are these features available with your new software, and if so how do they work?
From our first EdgeMarcs, released in 2003, to our current products, we have been able to do prioritization and traffic shaping on a single connection.
Since 2014, our Intelligent Edges have been built with dual WAN ports (Ethernet and Optical) so it was very natural to extend these capabilities across two connections for our SD-WAN product.
We have added additional resiliency to SIP continuity functionality in our product, which we call Stateful SIP Transfer. The Intelligent Edge is measuring network and service quality constantly as well as performing a Mean Opinion Score (MOS) every 10 seconds of every call on both the LAN and WAN side of the device. Stateful SIP Transfer can automatically transfer a SIP call to a second link in the event of service degradation on the primary link on the order of one second (less than the time you would put yourself on mute to cough).
Our solution is not targeted to large Enterprises, so we have not focused on the packet duplication/cloning and forward error correction. Both of those features are bandwidth consuming and require cloud-based services and substantial increased costs that are not a requirement for SMEs.
So what kind of VoIP quality should a user expect with your solution versus a more traditional SD-WAN for VoIP product?
VoIP service assurance has been our business for over a decade. Currently, we have over 635,000 Intelligent Edges deployed at end customer sites through our partners who include some of the largest Business UCaaS providers in North America.
Our partners choose us because we guarantee high service quality of UCaaS either on their network or Over the Top. To us, our SD-WAN product simply extends that guarantee across two WAN connections for greater resiliency and business continuity.
In the world of modern applications, most are built to be self healing and resilient within themselves providing an appropriate user experience on their own. However, as you pointed out, VoIP is not one of those. Through our Stateful SIP Transfer functionality, we bring to this resiliency to SIP, making the call transitions non-impactful to the end users.
It sounds like you’re saying that there’s a mismatch between how VoIP providers are using SD-WAN (to improve quality on an internet uplink) and the original purpose of these products (for enterprises to replace MPLS networks).
That makes sense to me – I can see that a product better focused on this market segment could provide better value for those users – but it feels like the cloud gateway is key piece of the architecture even for VoIP providers.
Without a cloud gateway are you able to measure and control quality in the upstream direction (from the SMB to the service provider)?
Or do you not see these features as necessary in practice? Are the big SD-WAN players over-optimizing the network by including cloud gateways in the architecture for VoIP?
Every EdgeMarc Intelligent Edge is constantly and actively monitoring the quality of the downstream connections. We have some insight into the upstream link quality by measuring MOS, RTP Loss, Packet Flow and SIP Impairment. We also perform UDP Loop Monitoring between the links which enables us to also have direct insight into the upstream quality (these are obviously in addition to any hard failure situations). We also monitor hop counts to the SIP servers as an additional point of reference for connection quality.
With all of this, we have a solid understanding of the link quality to perform the actions we need to in order to meet our customer’s SLAs.
As we discussed previously, a cloud gateway has its place, but it may not be the right fit for an SME. To be blunt, the economics of traditional SD-WAN don’t work for an SME. Edgewater Networks solution is a much better fit for SMEs with very similar levels of VoIP and application resiliency.
I know this is hard, but in what circumstances would a user be better off using one of your competitors (e.g. Velocloud)?
We do not currently see ourselves as a direct competitor to the traditional SD WAN vendors. They were built to go after the Enterprise market with an ROI based on the high cost to install and maintain an MPLS environment. We are focused on the SME market where the needs are different.
Our EdgeMarc Intelligent Edges do have support for VPN and we have a VPN Concentrator in our portfolio so adding small scale VPN networks for distributed SMEs is a natural extension to our product roadmap.
What kind of user or what kind of situation would be a great fit for the Edgewater SD-WAN offering?
One common use case would be a regional Auto Dealership Group. We have partners selling UCaaS to these customers using Network Edge Orchestration for service assurance and security. The Dealership Group often has, say, 12 individual dealerships under it. Our partner may be delivering UCaaS on their managed network for 7 locations but go Over the Top for the other 5.
Edgewater Networks’ SD-WAN is a great addition to the five OTT locations by adding a second link like an LTE modem. Our SD-WAN product is deployed by a button push in EdgeView on the same EdgeMarc used for service assurance.
Imagine it’s the end of the month and a salesperson is on the phone with a prospect with whom they are trying to close a sale. If the network conditions on the primary link degrades and voice quality is impacted, our SD-WAN product can statefully move that call to the secondary link keeping the call going to get the sale closed. Without SD-WAN, the customer may drop, potentially losing a sale.
In general, Edgewater Networks’ SD-WAN is easy to deploy without intervention by an IT team, requires no additional hardware, and is cost effective for any SME.
Thank you Chris Kolstad, for taking the time to engage in this debate. I certainly think there’s value to be created by focusing on the SMB VoIP niche of the SD-WAN market, so I like Edgewater’s strategy. Only time will tell whether the cost savings gained from this simpler solution will outweigh the additional features offered by a more heavyweight offering.
As always, I’d be interested to hear from service providers who have deployed different SD-WAN products to learn about your experiences.