The SD-WAN wave has surprised many with its depth and penetration into enterprise and service provider networking circles.
I predict it will go even deeper due to its ongoing integration with the software-defined branch (SD-Branch).
Ongoing trends in cloud services, service provider networks and enterprise networks are all heading in the same direction – driving more nimble networks that can be managed and secured from the cloud and scaled on demand. Innovations in both SD-WAN and SD-Branch will continue to drive this functionality into enterprise networks.
At the same time, the physical underlay technologies of wireline and wireless technologies will need to be further levered using software-defined technology. The arrival of Wi-Fi 6, 5G and private wireless technologies such as citizen’s broadband radio service (CBRS), present unique opportunities to augment enterprise and end-user network access.
As Wi-Fi taught us, why should you care where you are and what network you are on? Users should be able to find seamless, secure bandwidth on demand – from wherever they are.
SD-WAN and SD-Branch are poised to deliver all of this – with SD-WAN focused on the branch outwardly and SD-Branch focused inwardly. Enterprise network managers and end users gain a new range of flexible, diverse services.
I recently had an interesting discussion with David Hughes, founder of Silver Peak and senior vice president of the WAN business at Aruba, about the edge being central to digital transformation. He said that moving from a data-centre centric, MPLS-based WAN to a cloud-first WAN that fully leverages the internet will enable enterprises to bridge to where they want to go tomorrow.
Network gets cloudy
Whether you have an SD-WAN or an SD-Branch, it doesn’t matter in the end. What’s important is that they’re both underpinned by the same important concepts of software-defined networking (SDN). That is, networks aren’t defined by physical devices, but by a software-driven management model that can be centrally controlled using cloud-based services.
This is important because SDN technology can be used to quickly manage or adopt any combination of underlying transport technologies – such as MPLS, DIA, broadband, Wi-Fi, 5G or even fibre, for example. The nature of SDN means that these technologies can be quickly assimilated and cloudified to deliver value to end users.
Software-defined convergence of wireless and wireline functionality is becoming a standard feature of leading enterprise networking platforms. Enterprises want to consolidate the capabilities of LAN, WAN, 5G and Wi-Fi across a range of topologies, including hub-and-spoke, partial mesh, dynamic full mesh or direct enterprise and cloud connections.
They want to use features such as local internet breakout to optimise their networks and deliver the highest quality of experience to users. At the same time, they want to use new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to automate the management and security of these networks.
For a while, SD-WAN and SD-Branch have been evolving similarly in parallel markets – adopting SDN capabilities, cloud security services and AI-driven centralised management. It’s time for these parallel developments to merge to better address the evolving requirements of geographically distributed enterprises.
There’s no reason why a single SDN platform shouldn’t control network and security functionality across the WAN, the branch and the LAN. Wireless features such as LTE, Wi-Fi and 5G will become part of the standard branch connectivity options, as well as SD-WAN managed services. This will allow end users such as retailers or industrial users to distinguish specific users, devices and applications in a cloud-based network based on their role, not their location.
Another development not to be overlooked is automated orchestration of leading cloud-delivered security services, while striking a balance with unified on-premises WAN edge security functions. This enables enterprises to apply and enforce consistent security policy across thousands of remote locations, whether they are linked to the cloud or to a traditional data centre.
End users have their say
It’s clear from discussions we've had with enterprise IT organisations, that they want further integration of SDN at the edge. There’s strong demand to integrate SD-WAN with SD-Branch and wireless.
In a recent survey, nearly 90 per cent of the 120 enterprise end users surveyed said that SD-Branch features for wireless and wired management are important in SD-WAN managed services. It revealed that network and IT managers are seeking more flexibility in connecting branches with a software-driven model that enables them to bring new branch offices online quickly.
Whether a global Fortune 500 company managing hundreds of branch offices for a bank, or a regional chain of retail stores looking for easy-to-manage WAN connectivity, network and IT managers are focused on improving the ease-of-use and management of branch offices. The convergence of SD-WAN and secure SD-Branch is providing the path forward.