With 2017 well under way, let’s examine the current state of your organization’s branch offices. Remote locations grow increasingly important to enterprises every year, and more employees are distributed around the globe, working away from the confines of corporate HQ. There is one exception to that rule, however: IT staff.
The digital transformation that is driving enterprises to embrace cloud computing and build hybrid IT infrastructures must include the network. The solution is not to add more routers or full-time IT personnel; closing this gap requires companies to adopt a new approach to managing the network. The hybrid IT environment has become the norm as enterprises decide to employ infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings rather than build and maintain capex-based systems and applications in their data centers. This strategy has a direct impact on how network architects design their remote networks.
Today, Internet broadband-based connectivity is increasingly serving as the cheaper alternative and for directly connecting branch locations to cloud-based services, augmenting or even in some cases replacing traditional MPLS-based networks. This situation creates a new set of performance limitations for users to contend with—and challenges for IT to solve.
The Switch to SD-WAN
Managing hybrid (MPLS + Internet) cloud-centric WAN topologies with legacy approaches to branch networking is becoming too costly and ineffective. Even small configuration changes are hard to get right and all too often compromise the availability, performance and/or security of a distributed network.
The lack of complete visibility into network behavior and application performance creates other management headaches. Direct Internet access at multiple remote sites bypasses data-center-grade security services, weakening the enterprise’s information-security posture. Encrypted apps (SSL, TLS and HTTPS) and SaaS-vendor opacity compromise end-to-end visibility. Limited MPLS capacity and no SLAs for broadband Internet yield unpredictable performance slowdowns that users will notice, often before IT does.
As enterprises continue to adopt more Internet-based applications and services, deploy more video and other bandwidth-intensive applications, and implement hybrid WAN technologies at remote locations, these challenges will only grow more difficult and costly to overcome. That’s why software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) is emerging as the preferred option for managing today’s hybrid networks.
What Exactly Is SD-WAN?
SD-WAN enables network architects and operators to take a holistic approach that hides the underlying complexity and makes orchestrating enterprise and cloud connectivity “point-and-click” easy. Instead of trying to manage thousands of manually configured routers, IT can centralize and simplify management using virtual network design, zero-touch provisioning and business-aligned policy-based orchestration. According to Gartner, “SD-WAN is a new and transformational way to architect, deploy and operate corporate WANs, as it provides a dramatically simplified way of deploying and managing remote branch office connectivity in a cost-effective manner.”
The hybrid enterprise network is complex and will only grow more so year after year. Enterprise IT organizations should therefore consider implementing a comprehensive solution that addresses not only the deployment, security and management challenges of the hybrid WAN, but also cloud-connectivity and branch-networking issues. Of course, as the SD-WAN market expands, that’s easier said than done.
IDC earlier this year predicted the emerging SD-WAN industry will grow at a more than 90 percent CAGR for the next five years, becoming a $6 billion industry by 2020. According to the report, “SD-WAN offers compelling value for its ability to defray MPLS costs, simplify and automate WAN operations, improve application traffic management, and dynamically deliver on the cost and efficiency benefits associated with intelligent path selection.”
This rapid growth creates more options to consider. Look for the following three major capabilities when evaluating individual SD-WAN solutions.
First, consider whether you will be able to achieve unified connectivity and management across the WAN, remote LAN and cloud networks. Your network has three main components: the LAN, WAN and cloud. An effective software-defined and application-defined connectivity fabric encompasses all three and is a “must-have” to ensure long-term scalability. Why is it critical? Unified connectivity and management ensures streamlined workflows and adds agility to the increasingly complex networks.
Second, ensure that you’ll be able to implement business-aligned orchestration that enables you to avoid having to manage networks by configuring individual appliances. Make it easy to establish and roll out global or local policies defined for the users, applications, security considerations and performance objectives—no more wasting time entering endless lines of CLI code to make network and application changes.
Third and finally, bring the agile and simplified workflows characteristic of the cloud to the network. The solution should offer an intuitive graphical user interface that supports an agile and intent-based workflow for managing networks, zero-touch provisioning to provide instant deployment of physical devices, and central management of global network policies. After all, are we not moving to a cloud-centric world?
As Gartner points out in its “Technology Overview for SD-WAN,” enterprises can achieve 50–80% faster provisioning of new sites and services using SD-WAN. Additionally, they can expect at least a 40% reduction in TCO.
It’s time to rethink networking and take on digital transformation.
About the Author
Milind Bhise is Senior Director of Product Marketing at Riverbed Technology and has over 20 years of experience in networking and telecom. Before Riverbed, he was a founding team member of Aviatrix, a venture-funded cloud-native networking company, where he was responsible for global marketing. He has also held various senior management roles at Fluke Networks, Aricent Group, Proxim Wireless and Nortel Networks.