Tech in 20 Minutes Ep. 5: John Hogan, Bigleaf Networks

sdwan

Have you ever experienced lagging on a Zoom session or choppiness on a VoIP phone call? Bigleaf Networks was founded to solve site to cloud connectivity challenges. On today’s podcast, Max Clark talks with Bigleaf Network’s Vice President of Sales and Business Development about Cloud connectivity and Internet performance.

Episode Transcript:

INTRO: [00.00] Welcome to the Tech in 20 Minutes podcast, where you’ll meet new tech vendors, and learn how they can help your business. At Clarksys, we believe tech should make your life better, searching Google is a waste of time, and the right vendor is often one you haven’t heard of before. 

Max: [00.18] Hi I’m Max Clark and I’m speaking with John Hogan, VP of Sales with Bigleaf Networks. Hi John, thanks for joining.

John: [00.24] Hey Max, thanks for having me today.

Max: [00.27] So John, what does Bigleaf do?

John: [00.28] Bigleaf is an SD-WAN company, software defined networking in the wide area network. Basically, it means we bring intelligence to internet connectivity, so that companies – or even homes that leverage the internet as a lifeline – can have applications work correctly. We prioritize traffic, we provide seamless failover when there are two or more internet connections, we load balance, we just bring a better experience to the internet overall.

Max: [00.55] I mean, SD-WAN has become this marketing term that’s used by a lot of people, right? So, I mean, how much of your product is SD-WAN as it relates to the marketing term, and how much of your product is a, you know, service delivered that you control both ends to?

John: [01.14] Yeah, it’s a good question. SD-WAN is not even a formal term at this point – it is a marketing term, and it can mean different things to different people. For example, some people would define SD-WAN as a security solution, along with internet intelligence. Our version of this technology does not incorporate security, we’re a little different than many other SD-WAN vendors in that respect, and there are some reasons that we do that. But because of that, we often define ourself as intelligent internet, for lack of a better term. It’s frankly how we went to market originally in 2014 – internet optimization is what we called our service, this is before SD-WAN was really a marketing term. So, it’s a good question and I’m sure over time SD-WAN – that definition – will formalize and become more of a standard, but until then, any time I hear SD-WAN I’m just thinking, “Somebody’s adding intelligence to internet connectivity, and potentially site-to-site connectivity as well.”

Max: [02.09] So, what problem is Bigleaf solving and how do you solve it?

John: [02.15] Yeah, we were really created to solve the challenge of site-to-cloud connectivity. The internet was built eons ago without anybody intending to run major business applications over the internet, so it’s inherently a challenging environment for real-time applications like Zoom sessions, or voice over IP. So, we’re able to take what otherwise would be a dumb pipe and prioritize important applications like phone calls and video sessions, eliminate things like packet loss, steer around problems like packet loss by hopping between connections and keeping sessions live. So, we really take that dumb pipe environment, where you don’t have any level of control or really no ability to ensure an experience, and now layer on a platform – an intelligent platform – to really ensure an experience for our customers that are running applications.

Max: [03.14] So for a non-technical person, what’s a symptom of this? How do they know this is a problem they need to solve? 

John: [03.20] Yeah, you’re on a phone call, a voice over IP phone call, and you’ve got some choppiness; your call drops. You’re on a Zoom session and there’s some lagging, there is – you know – you’re seeing the spinning wheel on your computer with Office 365, or any other SaaS application. Your connection goes down, period. Internet connections go down on a very regular basis, whether it’s a very expensive fiber service, or it’s a lesser expensive coax from your cable company, those connections can go down. So, it’s any time your applications on your computer are not working smoothly.

Max: [03.59] So, going back to something you said earlier, you know, before the SD-WAN term you called yourself internet optimization. Bigleaf is not a service that’s an MPLS replacement, or an MPLS augmentation service. I mean, you really are something different entirely in that world of SD-WAN, and a big part of that is how you deploy your gateways, and traffic between your appliance to the customer’s location and your gateway. Can you talk about that a little bit more, what that actually means in the real world, and how does that give you an advantage, you know, in making the internet experience better for your customers?

John: [04.34] Again, our focus is site to cloud. So, in order to gain full control of cloud-based traffic, we had to build a gateway infrastructure in the core of the internet, basically. So, we have seven gateways in the US, three in Europe today; they sit in major peering centers around the country, so we actually dug a tunnel from the customer prem to our gateway that is sitting in a major peering center, and then we’ve got direct peering with thousands of different clouds APPLICATIONS, so if you’re running an Office 365 session, or Azure, or AWS, or… Your VOiP services from 8×8 or RingCentral… We are physically controlling that traffic from the customer premise to our gateway, and then handing off directly to that cloud provider. That end to end control is what gives us the ability to do things like prioritize applications in both directions, provide a seamless failover experience, load balance very intelligently… So, it’s really that gateway infrastructure that we’ve invested in that brings us that site to cloud capability that others don’t have. There are SD-WAN companies that don’t have a gateway infrastructure at all – all of their intelligence is built into a device that sits in the customer premise. That means they can say they do prioritization, that’s absolutely true, but that prioritization is in one direction on the upload. They don’t have any ability to control the download side of a cloud based session in the way Bigleaf can, because of our gateway infrastructure.

Max: [06.01] So, outside of this requirement for MPLS, who is a good customer for Bigleaf, you know, and who are your customers?

John: [06.09] Yeah, as of – the small to mid market is certainly our focus. We don’t incorporate security into our platform, that makes us a little bit different. We did this intentionally as it allows for much easier deployment. When you try and do more things, you give customers more options, but you also bring complexity into the equation by taking security out of the mix. We get by with a five/ten minute self-installation by very non-technical people. The way I like to put it, a general manager in a pizza shop can plug cables into our device and get setup very quickly.

Max: [06.45] So, there’s a good chance that somebody listening to this has never heard of Bigleaf before. How long have you been around, how big are you, what are some stats that you would give out to counter that?

John: [06.55] We were founded in 2014, so we’ve been in business for about six years, we go to market exclusively through partners; through an indirect channel, we don’t have a direct salesforce. So, our way of going to market – beyond word of mouth – is working with independent IT consultations, telecom agents, managed service providers… And we’re – for those that do know us – again by making the choice to not incorporate security, we’re known to be very easy to install. We have a much more automated way to achieve the things we’re trying to achieve. For example, things like prioritization and failover, other vendors would require manual policies to create that capability. Their ability to do what we do is very similar, but how it’s performed is much more manual with other platforms requiring IT professionals to set it up. In our case, we’ve got algorithms and software that do things in a much more automated fashion, so again, that pizza shop owner can plug in our device and their VoiP traffic is going to work. Immediately, their point of sale is going to be protected, and it just makes for a much more user-friendly experience, for small to midsize customers that don’t have huge IT staffs.

Max: [08.08] So how does Bigleaf price its service? I mean, what’s the selector that somebody sets, and what is the knob that gets turned that influences how much this costs?

John: [08.18] Good question. It’s basically based on the bandwidth needs of the customer. We have packages ranging from a 20Mb service in the low end, to a 3Gb service on the high end. Just because somebody has a gig coax connection into their office, doesn’t mean they necessarily have to go with our gig package. What we like to do is right-size our offering to the actual usage pattern of the customer, and one way they can identify that – if they don’t already know that – is put our service in for a couple weeks, track their usage pattern… You’ll often find somebody with a pretty cheap gig connection from their cable provider, only spiking at like 70Mb or 100Mb on their download, so they can go with our 100Mb service and again, right-size our offering and our price plate to their usage pattern. They can upgrade later if they need to.

Max: [09.07] So the world has changed a lot recently with COVID, and we’re now in a post-COVID world, and a distributed workforce, and work from home has become a very important thing for a lot of companies – relatively overnight. What does Bigleaf do to make that experience better for people that are at their homes and now working from their homes?

John: [09.27] One of the things I have enjoyed about working for a smaller company… We’re about sixty employees today – my history is working with very large companies with hundreds and thousands of employees – we can be nimble! When COVID hit, we were able to respond very quickly by putting our development team on the task of creating a home office offering. Within less than a week, we were able to put something together that is designed for the home. So, as employees are shifting to work at home activities, we can now ship out a router that is designed to work with a single circuit – which most homes have – again, three-to-five minute setup that doesn’t require any technical expertise – an accountant working from home can plug in the device and get it set up very quickly. I did it in my own home in five minutes and I’m not a technical person. If I can do it, anybody can do it. And automatically, your Zoom sessions, your VoiP calls are getting prioritized over your Netflix and Hulu and gaming with your kids in the background. What’s important about that – I think – is many of us believe that what we’re going to be seeing in the coming months and years is some kind of permanent shift to more work-at-home behaviour. How much that will happen is debatable, but I think most would agree that as we get comfortable leveraging these communication technologies in our homes, we’re going to see less of a need to go into teh office and that just drives home the need to have that lifeline, that internet connection into your home be a more intelligent platform, not a dumb pipe that treats a Netflix session the same as it does your Zoom session.

Max: [11.07] So, I mean, with a single circuit you’re not talking about routing around a network congestion or latency or packet loss. I mean, if your home cable company is having a problem, it’s 8pm at night, you know, there’s limited you can do with that. What you’re talking about is making sure that a video game console doesn’t affect your ability to actually work and be on the phone. You’re prioritizing business traffic over non-business traffic for home users?

John: [11.32] Yes, but one thing that’s not well-known about our service that I think we need to better articulate is that we’re doing some things to steer around and reduce packet loss with carriers. For example, my internet connection coming into my house is a 100Mb connection, but it’s a best-effort service, it’s a variable throughput service. At three in the afternoon, when there’s people in the neighbourhood using this connection, my 100Mb circuit could be getting 80Mbs at any given moment. Our tunnel mechanism – in real time – it adapts to that. So, if my service is getting 80Mbs instead of 100, which it’s rated at, we’re only allowing enough traffic to go through that line that it can support at that moment in time, which at that time is 80Mbs. What it does is it prevents packet loss from taking place in CenturyLink’s core routers, who’s my internet provider. So, we are literally reducing packet loss in that case that would normally occur and potentially screw up your Zoom session. The other thing that we’re doing is – again, we’re managing traffic from the customer premise, in this case my house, to our gateway. That traffic is going from my house to the cable head-end of my provider, and then riding upstream providers to our gateway. In the case of Comcast for example, they might be leveraging Level 3 as their backbone provider. If Level 3 is having an issue, we can see that in our network, and we can steer around that and go to another backbone provider that’s not having trouble at that time. So, we’re in real time able to steer around backbone problems on the internet, without anybody knowing that we’re doing that behind the scenes. So, I know that’s a long way of saying, “We can actually prevent some problems that occur from carrier packet loss.”

Max: [13.19] Awesome, so I mean… You should probably also – let’s talk about your reports. I mean, after installing Bigleaf the idea is these things are just going to be better. How does somebody know if you’re actually working or if this is benefiting them, other than getting a bill from you each month?

John: [13.35] Yeah, part of the intelligence that we’re offering is visibility. So, with every Bigleaf service comes our Bigleaf appsite, which is a portal that you can access to see real time metrics on packet loss latency, jitter, throughput, usage patterns… If you and I were having a challenge with this conversation right now, I could pop into the appsite – I have Bigleaf installed in my house – and I can see, yeah, I’ve got packet loss from my carrier, which is causing that problem. If I don’t see that, now I know that my circuit’s clean, maybe I’ve got a WiFi issue – it just helps with troubleshooting.

Max: [14.10] John, once last question before I let you go: if a business is interested in Bigleaf, can they try you before they sign a contract, is there an evaluation period? What does that look like? 

John: [14.19] Absolutely. We have a thirty day money back guarantee on every order form. So, every customer is encouraged to try our service; if for any reason in those first four weeks they aren’t satisfied, they would just ship the router back – we wouldn’t charge them anything. For customers that are looking at very large deployments in dozens of dozens of locations, we always let them try us out at a few sites, make sure everything is working correctly before we do any kind of wide deployment. So, there’s always a way to try the service, bed it out, make sure you’re comfortable before you’re committed to anything.

Max: [14.48] Awesome. John, thank you very much for your time.

John: [14.51] Yeah, thank you.

OUTRO:  [14.54] Thanks for joining the Tech in 20 Minutes podcast. At Clarksys, we believe tech should make your life better, searching Google is a waste of time, and the right vendor is often one you haven’t heard of before. We can help you buy the right tech for your business, visit us at Clarksys.com to schedule an intro call. 

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