Diverse Broadband Roots Gives Hughes an SD-WAN Edge

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Diverse Broadband Roots Gives Hughes an SD-WAN Edge

One of the most demanding communications environments is satellite where bandwidth can be extremely limited yet real-time communications is a necessity as soldiers need to communicate with others - potentially thousands of miles from the battlefield. Over the years, VoIP satellite technology has evolved allowing multiple conversations to be compressed together to minimize bandwidth use. 

Today, satellite bandwidth may seem abundant but during the numerous wars in the middle-east in the past few decades, satellite vendors really had to push the edge of the envelope to allow effective communications to take place. 

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Hughes Network Systems is the group within satellite company Hughes that provides business services and its evolved to become a diverse broadband provider over the years - from roots which include providing military solutions. What is most interesting about the company is its work with numerous underlying broadband carriers - giving it a great deal of experience in the spirit of SD-WAN, before the term even existed.

We thought we would provide a unique perspective on SD-WAN if we reached out to Bill Rumancik, Senior Marketing Director with Enterprise Solutions at Hughes Network Systems and asked him about the state of the SD-WAN market and where his company fits in the market.

Here is our interview:


When and how did you get into the SD-WAN market?

Hughes launched its latest HughesON Managed SD-WAN solution in January 2017. The enabling SD-WAN technology, however, had been in development and production trials for a number of months leading up to the launch.

Hughes has been a leading provider of enterprise managed network solutions for almost 40 years.  Our solutions incorporate a full range of enterprise services, including transport, security, digital signage, Wi-Fi, and performance optimization.  In 2014 Hughes introduced our WAN optimization suite, ActiveTechnologies, to provide enterprise-class network performance with QoS (Quality-of-Service), Compression, andBill Rumancik Senior Marketing Director with Enterprise Solutions Hughes Network Systems.jpg Application Classification in an ever-changing broadband environment.  The ActiveTechnologies traffic optimization foundation was enhanced with our multi-transport technology called ActivePath, which collectively form the core underlying technology for Hughes Managed SD-WAN.

Tell us more about your particular offerings in this space.

Hughes’ heritage (40+ years) is in hardware and software development and system integration that started with building satellite networks.  We are unique amongst major managed service providers (MSP) in that we provide a combination of strong technology and engineering capabilities coupled with service delivery.  The HughesON Managed SD-WAN solution leverages our engineering heritage to deliver an industry leading distributed SD-WAN solution specifically designed for highly distributed organizations.

Our ActiveTechnologies suite is comprised of four key features: ActiveQoS, ActiveClassifier, ActiveCompression, and ActivePath.  

  • ActiveQoS dynamically characterizes broadband connections (capacity, latency, packet loss, etc.) to effectively apply QoS to critical retail applications such as VoIP and POS transactions.
  • ActiveCompression utilizes a powerful two-stage adaptive algorithm to provide the best data reduction possible across the WAN and provide additional capacity for branch applications.  
  • ActiveClassifier automatically identifies and prioritizes individual application flows based on their traffic behavior and domain name.  This allows critical and real-time apps, such as VoIP and POS to be prioritized over bulk or batch workloads, such as email attachments or software downloads without requiring application specific configurations.  
  • ActivePath enables an always-on secure SD-WAN overlay that uses intelligent path control to choose the optimal path while preventing brownouts or blackouts on individual paths from impacting the user experience.

Our SD-WAN was designed with the end-user in mind.  ActivePath includes several technologies, such as Intelligent Multipath Replication (IMR), which steers critical flows (such as VoIP) simultaneously over multiple transport to ensure the voice packets arrive as needed for a great customer experience. ActivePath is also aware of metered broadband connections (such as 4G/LTE) so potentially expensive bandwidth is only utilized when it is most needed, thus saving the customer money while improving application uptime.

As an MSP, Hughes will normally provide a turn-key Managed SD-WAN network service, inclusive of broadband provisioning, installation, maintenance, configuration, operation, and helpdesk functions.  For many distributed enterprise customers, our Managed SD-WAN offering is typically integrated into a single branch CPE with multipath optimization, routing, and security functions to minimize branch complexity and cost.  The SD-WAN gateways can reside at either a Hughes or Customer datacenter with multiple datacenters being active to ensure business continuity and disaster recovery.

What is driving enterprise interest in SD-WAN?

Distributed enterprises, especially those currently leveraging a T1 MPLS network, are being challenged by their business units to enhance the customer experience and improve operational efficiency.  These initiatives normally lead to SaaS (cloud-based) applications, more bandwidth, and additional branch devices needing to be prioritized and secured.  SD-WAN delivers improved capacity and availability through the intelligent use of multiple transports (T1, cable, fiber, 4G, etc.) at the branch site.  In addition, SD-WAN provides insights into network behavior and easy-to-manage configurations through a unified management of network services portal.  

It is essentially the need for more capacity and Internet-access from the branch (which MPLS networks were not typically designed to accommodate) which are driving the interest in SD-WAN and revamping current WAN architectures.  And, managed SD-WANs are gaining interest with customers to outsource the complexity of device and broadband management.

What is the biggest pain your solutions take away for customers?

The Hughes Managed SD-WAN solutions address a number of key pain points:

  • Removes complex broadband management and operational burden so enterprises can focus on strategic initiatives and growing their business
  • Removes rigid and static branch QoS configurations, allowing dynamic bandwidth characterization and application classification to adjust QoS values as network behavior changes
  • Reduces branch complexity and cost by combining several functions (SD-WAN, optimization, security, routing) into a single CPE

For enterprises which haven’t had to deal with disparate transports types, service levels, support models, etc. from various Internet Service Providers (ISP), adding and managing broadband circuits at every branch location can significantly strain their IT organization’s capacity. Working with a strategic partner who has numerous ISP relationships, established processes, and an existing deployment of field technicians can help businesses achieve their goals without overloading internal IT and support teams.

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Unlike MPLS, broadband performance varies constantly in key areas such as capacity, latency, and packet loss. Hughes’ ActiveTechnologies automatically adjust to changing broadband environments.  Because the technology is always monitoring and adjusting, customer IT teams don’t need to be continually updating site CIR settings, QoS mappings, priority rules, and other configurations.  They can spend less time being reactive to the network and more time being proactive to move important initiatives forward.  

To take a real-world example of this technology’s impact, one 1,800 site SD-WAN network we manage for a financial services customer relies heavily upon VoIP for their client interactions.  This customer rolled-out IP Phones to all their sites without needing to adjust any branch QoS or classification rules.  The Hughes SD-WAN technology automatically detected the SIP packets and appropriately prioritized the voice traffic across the network.

Many of our retail customers are very cost-conscious and striving to streamline operations without impacting network performance or availability.  They have experienced difficulties with interoperability between multiple branch platforms for different technology providers.  As enterprises replace legacy routing and firewall hardware, deploying a multi-function CPE that can enable new services as their business grows has been perceived as a value-add to their overall bottom line. 

What is your target audience?

Hughes’ target audience is the distributed enterprise (ranging from a few dozen to thousands of branch locations) normally in the Retail, Restaurant, Retail Petroleum, Restaurant, Hospitality, and Financial verticals.  We have established systems and processes to partner with large enterprises as well as the franchise / marketer community.  Our managed networks range from over 100K sites for a single customer to just a handful of locations for a particular franchisee.  We typically focus on bringing broadband (wireline, wireless, satellite) to branch locations as a complete WAN solution or to provide a secondary path to say an existing MPLS network.

How do you go to market? Direct? MSPs? Carriers? Etc.?

Hughes is a MSP with a Managed SD-WAN solution.  We market and engage directly with customers to tailor the solution offerings and services to best suit their WAN requirements.  We have a dedicated team of Solution Consultants and Engineers to engage with customers to help educate, design, and trial prospective solutions (Network, Media, SD-WAN) — working through various pros / cons of broadband choices, head-end placement, security considerations, and other factors that are important to our customers.

What synergistic technologies and markets are aided by SD-WAN?

Businesses are striving to leverage their brick and mortar locations in a growing online and home-delivery environment.  This is true for banking, grocery, retail, and other industries right in our own neighborhoods.  As they look to enhance their customers’ experiences through Wi-Fi, beacons, signage, virtual reality, kiosks, and other emerging technologies, a greater responsibility and burden will be placed on the store network to be fast and resilient.  SD-WAN delivers a significant part of what businesses are looking for from their networks, such as path/transport diversity, improved network visibility, and increased network flexibility/agility.  It is an enabling technology that allows businesses to explore these other emerging technologies in their distributed locations that will further optimize their operations.

Certain SD-WAN platforms can also provide current MPLS customers a means to evolve their networks to include broadband but not require an immediate “all-in” shift on transport choice and application direction, helping to ease the transition to new solutions.  This Hybrid-WAN (MPLS + Broadband) approach can allow business to validate broadband performance over time, migrating certain applications in phases from MPLS to broadband.  

Security is another market that is aided by the adoption of SD-WAN.  As MPLS customers shift from private clouds to include public Internet connections, they need to consider their increased threat landscape and different attack vectors which could be used to compromise the network.  Hughes has been PCI DSS v3.2 certified and diligently works with our customers to ensure their customers and the brand are protected.

What regions of the world will be most disrupted by SD-WAN?

Current indicators point towards North America (specifically the US WAN market) being initially disrupted by SD-WAN, with Europe and Asia Pacific ranking a distant second and third place.  A recent Frost & Sullivan report stated that the US represents over 80% of the current SD-WAN market revenue.  From a Hughes engagement standpoint, we have seen considerable interest, testing, and deployment of SD-WAN technology in the US.  Hughes’ International divisions have been involved in a number of exploratory engagements, but these customers seem to be take more of a wait-and-see approach to let the US market help mature the technology and refine the strategic players.

How do you differentiate your company from others in the market?

Unlike other SD-WAN and managed service providers, Hughes has a strong legacy of providing high quality and comprehensive managed network services for almost 40 years.  With over 250, 000 managed IP-VPN business endpoints in just in the US today, Hughes has become a market leader in delivering best-in-class products and services.  We understand the provisioning, management, and security challenges of broadband.

Our ActiveTechnologies™  have been in production networks for nearly four years now at s tens of thousands of locations.  This proven technology is the basis for our SD-WAN offering and leverages proven WAN optimization and security features that improve application performance and end-user experiences.  The network architecture enables cloud adoption from either the datacenter or directly from the branch location.  We believe having a WAN optimization component in the SD-WAN solution is crucial for blackout scenarios that will cause the branch to operate on a single transport for a period of time.

What is driving the competitive SD-WAN landscape? Why are so many vendors and providers throwing their hats in the ring?

Prior to 2015, the distributed enterprise WAN architecture had been fairly static and predictable.  Every few years vendors would release newer/faster hardware (routers, firewalls) and ISP’s would introduce faster broadband transports (cable, fiber, etc.).  MPLS-centric networks would predominately stay on T1 circuits and branch hardware refreshes were on the order of every five to seven years.  

With the advent of retail’s digital transformation, businesses need more capacity and quicker access to the Internet to meet rapidly-expanding consumer demand.  This is driving organizations to adopt broadband into their architectures and likely change their branch router to accommodate higher speeds and security considerations.  

Given the large number of businesses looking to update their networks, SD-WAN has been thrust into mainstream discussions and represents a significant marketplace opportunity to solution and technology providers. This is directly driving the number of providers looking to carve out a piece of the SD-WAN market, striving to capture everything from small businesses to large global enterprises.

How will the competitive landscape change in the next year?

As seen in current market trends, the expectation is that the SD-WAN provider landscape will continue to thin out as leaders emerge and technology startups are acquired by established brands.  From a technology standpoint, companies will continue to look for ways to differentiate their offerings with innovation and improvements in areas such as:

  • Self-learning and healing network devices
  • Continued reduction in hardware and operational cost
  • Improved SaaS & corporate application awareness and traffic handling
  • Increased security features

As confidence in the SD-WAN technology continues to grow, an increasing number of business will look to migrate away from a Hybrid-WAN architecture (MPLS + Broadband) in favor of a complete broadband WAN implementation — providing more capacity and improved path diversity for a lower overall cost.

What is the future for your organization?

There are a number of exciting technologies just over the horizon and Hughes will be a driving force in their market deployments.  Broadband will remain a key component of SD-WAN deployments.  A number of cellular providers and chipset manufacturers are actively testing 5G cellular services.  5G technology promises to greatly lower latency and increase capacity connections to the branch.  Along those same lines, Hughes is working with OneWeb to build a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite system that will radically redefine satellite communications, providing multi-megabit links with nearly a 12x reduction in latency when compared to current satellite technology.   Leveraging our strategic partnerships, Hughes will be including these transport services, when commercially ready, into our SD-WAN offerings.

More specifically to SD-WAN, we are continuing to enhance the ActiveTechnologies features to provide more performance and additional network insights to our users.  We value our customer feedback, as they interact with the technology, and look to incorporate some of their ideas into our product road-map.  The SD-WAN broadband future, both in the US and globally, looks promising and Hughes will strive to continue to be a trusted partner with our customers, helping them grow and succeed in their respective industries.

The best way to learn more about SD-WAN and related activities and see Hughes Network Systems and the entire SD-WAN ecosystem in action is to be at the world’s only SD-WAN Expo @sd-wanexpo, Feb. 14-16, Fort Lauderdale, FL. We hope to see you there!

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