Fireflies, Synchronicity and SD-WAN

Imagine a warm summer night away from the city hustle and techno grind. Moon is new, sky is clear, air is crisp, mind is easy. Peering out towards a bank of pines that border the woodland, you notice a few fireflies start to flash their bulbs. Your eyes are opened wide, equipped like a sharp shooters, honing in on the next flash. More start to blink into existence, matching the rhythmic nature of the others that have already joined the mantra. It’s as though an endless number of blinking fireflies are entering the night, breathing in epic unison. 

Order in Chaos

This synchronicity of firefly bulbs beaconing as one entity has captivated the hearts and minds of privileged bystanders for eons. Scientists have studied this synchronicity in what should be chaotic, somehow rapidly finding order. What they have observed is commonality with other natural occurrences like the pulsing electricity in our brains, peacemaking cells in our hearts, orchestras of crickets, alignment of ovulation cycles in mammals, and so on. 

Synchronicity sometimes appears in ephemeral instances like cricket symphonies and ovulation. Other times we witness infinite pulses of duality. In the case of fireflies, it is the males that are bulbed, rhythmically lighting up in effort to attract female mates and seal the deal.

When I look at the IT industry, these ephemeral synchs are everywhere. As soon as a new technology comes out, it seems that there are already a handful of other companies doing almost the exact same thing. Before you know it there are ten or fifteen other companies offering very similar solutions, desperately competing to make a connection.  It once amazed me how this would happen, almost as if there was some collective consciousness or a secret society of shadowed individuals igniting many minds with the same match.

SD-WAN, a Swarm of Fireflies

For context, I’m looking at Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) as a live and growing synchronicity event. Instead of blinking on and off, companies continue to blink on and on, brightening the market space to the point that sunscreen is required for survival. 

The idea of a SD-WAN is rooted back to the parent concept of a Software-Defined Network (SDN). Rather than being a measly appendage of SDN, the SD-WAN component left home and grew its own body, with arms, legs and all. It has become an obvious solution for the future of the WAN, essentially virtualizing aggregations of circuits into intelligent, policy-driven, application-based models more aligned with business objectives. Some are attracted to potential cost savings, while others are looking for reduced complexity via abstraction.

Visionary events – Many a firefly

Visiting vendor-agnostic conferences like Open Networking User Group (ONUG) or Interop, one might be overwhelmed with the multitude of SD-WAN solutions providers out there. Viptela, Cisco, Riverbed, CloudGenix, Nuage, VeloCloud, Talari, SilverPeak, NEC, just to name a few., are all providing such a solution. Some of these companies are completely dedicated to SD-WAN, others providing the solution as part of a march larger portfolio. Competition is heavy.

Some seasoned networking vendors aside, where did all of these companies come from? Who is the first firefly, and what makes the others different? More importantly, why would one bulb-less partner-seeking firefly choose some vendor over the others? These are all important questions, many which don’t have a clear answer. 

The Alpha Firefly

My experience at this Spring 2016 ONUG event provides some clarity. A small number of very large and influential companies are what comprise the ONUG conference. They talk about their immediate technical challenges and desires. Attendees, some scientists and researches, listen closely and develop solutions for these various real-world use cases. 

Although the concept of a SD-WAN predates ONUG, it was the early ONUG conferences that expanded the applicable use cases for such a solution, effectively ignited the boom of SD-WAN providers. Alas, it’s not a shadow organizations after all.  These IT industry synchs more closely resemble collected consciousness. 

The alpha firefly is just a concept. It’s irrelevant. Whoever influences and attracts the right mates will ultimately lead this once-niche industry. 


The SD-WAN space, along with any new technology in the IT industry, is analogous with fireflies in that rapid succession of synchronicity is naturally inevitable. Healthy competition drives innovation and germinates the illusion of synchronicity.  With fireflies, eventually the blinking subsides and the only light left is that of the natural world. SD-WAN will instead become a part of the natural world. The flurry of youth will drive innovation until the attrition of new differentiators troughs.  The graph below is an attempt to portray this idea, the blue line representing a fictitious congregation of SD-WAN companies.


SD-WAN is still being defined and evolving daily. Like a kid on a warm summer night, I’m captivated by the flurry. 

David Varnum


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  1. June 23, 2016

    […] Fireflies, Synchronicity and SD-WAN […]

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