Where is the real value in an SD-WAN solution? Some practitioners will tell you that it comes from being able to manage existing WAN infrastructure from a central dashboard. Others may tell you that they can finally start retiring MPLS circuits with expensive SLAs in favor of traditional broadband. You may even hear about all the advanced software features built in to analyze applications and provide services. But what if the real value in SD-WAN for some is speed?
Circle K is convenience store chain headquartered in Tempe, AZ. They have over 15,000 locations globally. I interviewed Cedric Tefft about how Circle K is starting to adopt SD-WAN across their organization. Cedric told me that they started using Cisco Viptela SD-WAN back in late 2015 and have so far deployed it to 3,400 locations. They are adding almost 500 vEdge routers to their network per month.
In the convenience store business, connectivity is money. Connectivity is required for credit card transactions to be processed. When those networks are down, stores can’t process. People that can’t use credit cards can’t pay. And the store starts losing money. Reliable connectivity is a key factor for success. And recovery from failure is huge as well.
Traditional routing infrastructure has some challenges when it comes to this kind of work. Circle K had looked at providing a backup 4G/LTE circuit for their devices in the past. However, they found that these devices had to be located externally of the router and would often be unable to be monitored by the management software used to keep tabs on the routers. There was no real way to monitor the connection status of the back up circuits. It was a toss up as to whether or not they would be available if the primary circuit went down.
In the event of an outage, Circle K had a procedure ready to go to replace the failed device. They had all the software scripts ready to provision a new device at their headquarters for the specific configuration of the failed unit. They would then ship that replacement unit to the affected store for replacement. It was a very streamlined process. The only issues cropped up when the failure happened on a Weekend or over a long holiday. That could impact operations of the store for upwards of 3-4 days depending on the outage.
A Running Start
With Cisco Viptela SD-WAN, Circle K was able to rapidly speed up the deployment of replacement devices. Because the Cisco Viptela vEdge routers could be centrally programmed from the Cisco Viptela dashboard, Circle K didn’t need to continue to program them from a central location in Arizona. Instead, they could seed these replacement devices closer to the store locations.
Now, with the replacement devices hours away from the stores instead of days, a third party contracted firm could deliver the device to the store location and power it on. With an integrated 4G/LTE link the network team for Circle K could quickly provision the device and get it back online in a matter of minutes instead of staging the device and then shipping it out.
One advantage of Cisco Viptela’s SD-WAN solution is that the API allows for integration with Circle K’s legacy tools. For example, when the replacement device is provisioned at the store there could be one of three different types of WAN configuration that could be needed. The store could be using PPPoE, DHCP, or even static address assignment. And each store could be different. The installer might not know what the proper configuration is for the store location.
With Cisco Viptela, the Circle K network team could leverage their existing database of configurations and use the API to pull that data into the provisioning system to ensure that the replacement vEdge device was properly configured when installed. No more fumbling to find the right data. No more relying on an installer’s memory.
The 4G/LTE circuit being built in also allows it to be monitored for backup purposes at all times. No external box is necessary to provide connectivity. That reduces moving parts and points of failure. And the 4G/LTE circuit can be used for out-of-band access and even traffic steering.
Bringing It All Together
The flashiest features of a system aren’t always the reason why a customer buys it. More often than not, customers are looking for basic functionality that provides them the services they need to operate. Circle K needed to reduce time to replace failed units and they got that in Cisco Viptela. They were able to take the architecture they invested in and leverage it to use their legacy tools to help provision devices as fast as possible. That means more uptime for their stores and more revenue for their company. The value in SD-WAN can sometimes be as simple as speedy availability.