SD-WAN in Action: Bringing Consistency and Management to Network Performance

For managed service providers, streamlining and scaling network performance management has become an essential part of their business. However, many have found it’s difficult to ensure reliable internet connectivity and even more difficult to get visibility into issues. This leads to support tickets and Senior Engineers trying to fix things that should just work.  

MSPs shouldn’t have to use their top talent to do things that frankly amount to basic day-to-day housekeeping items. They need a solution that allows for visibility into their clients’ networks and reliable internet connectivity. Not only that, but the solution also needs to be scalable. Simply, network performance shouldn’t need to rely on complex solutions and configurations – the approach to connectivity needs to adapt. 

We sat down with Craig Anderson, vCIO of PC Miracles, to discuss how his team has used Bigleaf’s SD-WAN to take control of clients’ network performance.  

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your background and what you do and what your business does? 

A: I’ve been in the MSP space now for 13-14 years. Until recently, I was with a decent size MSP in Massachusetts, and that’s where I learned about Bigleaf and had most of my experience with it. Recently, I made a change to work remotely with PC Miracles out of Detroit and brought Bigleaf into PC Miracles. My experience ranges from running all the operations, service desk, processes for projects, managing the actual managed service, and even to some extent, a little bit of selling. Bigleaf was a major part of my success in this range of experience. We had probably about 100 clients, and I’d say a good chunk ended up using Bigleaf. 

Q: What experience first sold you on Bigleaf? 

A: When I first saw Bigleaf, a very good partner of mine who got on board early brought it in. We were doing an open house for clients and prospective clients, and they were one of our partners that were there presenting. The partner brought in a Bigleaf router with him, plugged in one of the internet connections into the wall, using our network. He also brought a Cradlepoint with a 4G LTE as a cellular internet backup and plugged that into the other port. He then took a SIP VoIP phone, and hooked it up to one of the cloud services, I don’t remember which one. 

And he makes a call, and we can all hear it… he puts it on speaker to a cell phone, and he’s talking and then he just rips the cable out. Just pulls the cable right out of one of the ports, and the phone call, just doesn’t even miss a beat. The SIP conversation flipped right over, over the alternate connection. So, there wasn’t a dropped call and redial, or any sort of loss along those lines. 

So right there, that to me was one of the biggest use cases. We were starting to see more clients go to cloud-based VoIP or really anything else that required the network to stay up.  

Q: As the technology landscape has evolved this year, how has Bigleaf been a part of that strategy?  

A: So, my most recent customers have a lot of site-to-site VPNs. They have very sensitive, based on an old technology, retail database systems, and if a site loses its internet connection and flips over to an alternate VPN on a different tunnel, all the sessions were lost, everything has to reconnect. Because Bigleaf hides all that, it obfuscates the connections, they can’t tell what internet connection they’re on, they just keep going because the packets are magically going over whichever connection and it’s magic as far as I’m concerned. The other big thing about site-to-site VPNs using Bigleaf… You get the single IP. From both an MSP and a customer standpoint, that ease of use is essential. 

Any of us can get redundant internet going. Any MSP worth their salt can say, “Hey let’s put your firewall on and let’s put two internet connections on it.” But now we’re going to be able to make that turnkey, we’re not going to need to completely engineer that. We can now get it up to four internet connections without it getting complicated. Your customer is going to get the benefit of combining internet connections. We’re not just saying, “Hey if you’re on this connection, you get a 100 meg, and if you’re on this connection, you get 50 meg. We’re going to aggregate them and you’re effectively getting 150 because it’s using them both together, and you’re not going to need a senior engineer to set up something that is, from the customer standpoint, something that should be basic and should just work. 

Q: From an MSP standpoint, what is the most helpful aspect of Bigleaf’s solution? 

A: From the MSP standpoint, I personally want it because if you can bring that consistency across your customer base, you’re bringing that ease of management of internet connections to the MSP level. And if I can get to a point where the majority of, or all clients are running this, they’re going to obviously see their own benefits. But then I’m also going to see the benefit of being able to support them more easily and better because they may have whatever carrier is available in their geographical area or at their address—fiber, coax, satellite, 4G, whatever. But I’ve pulled those under one roof and consolidated that into one pane of glass, where we, as the MSP, can see what’s going on and support that and more quickly react or troubleshoot issues and quite frankly have less issues.  

We can now pull that all together under one dashboard. That’s really one of the biggest things I found—we have the right quality for VoIP, we have that reliability, and it’s turnkey. You’re not having to engineer it, and when you reduce that complexity, you’re not having to troubleshoot the multitude of things that could go wrong in a more complicated scenario. 

Q: What would you say to other MSPs on your experience with implementing Bigleaf? 

A: I am one of those partners that can get a little bit technical, maybe more than the average person. But I kind of start to glaze over a little bit when we get too deep in the weeds, and it starts to sound like a lot of work and complicated. One of the big things for me over the years, in that MSP focus, has been scalability and repeatability. You don’t want to have your senior engineers use their best talent to keep things running day-to-day. So, I am very biased towards solutions that are more turnkey, but at the same time capable, you don’t want to give up the power just because you made it simpler. To that end, I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic or I wouldn’t have wanted to pull in Bigleaf as I went to new companies, or even bring it to my customers if I didn’t think we could manage it easily. Bigleaf is very simple to manage. You pull your customers’ internet connections under a dashboard that you have as an MSP, and you have that multi-tenant aspect, and your customers can have their own access.  

One of my biggest clients, they have their IT director who wants to see what’s going on with his internet connection. In fact, in addition to Bigleaf’s stability aspect, another big driving force was wanting to have visibility into how well their connections were performing. So again, from the ease of use to management, you can just log in and see that. You have your history, you have what’s being prioritized, how much traffic is going through, all right there. I don’t think I’ve really ever had a day of training on Bigleaf, and it’s not needed even for configuring the solution. I know my team here; I was the only one coming in with experience with Bigleaf. And I’m saying “Alright, guys, I’m going to have this customer deploy Bigleaf.” The engineering team did a little bit of training, but was a bit apprehensive, right? But after they did the install, the feedback was, “Okay, yeah, that was no problem, that was easier than a regular internet cutover would have been. Certainly, easier than a firewall deployment.”  

Bigleaf takes care of a lot of it for you. But even the configurations we work with and have to manage ourselves are very straightforward. If your techs deploy a firewall, if they handle an internet cutover, or if a customer gets a new internet connection; Bigleaf is not going to be a problem. And then that visibility and managing it on an ongoing basis, that single pane of glass, you now have it for the internet connections.  

Q: If you looked at your business and your client’s network performance before Bigleaf and then after Bigleaf, what are the biggest takeaways?

A: We kind of beat it into the ground, right, on the simplicity, but it just works. Bigleaf makes redundant internet more solid. All the million little corner cases where a failover or redundancy didn’t behave as expected – all of that went away with Bigleaf.

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