It's Not Your Dad's Branch Office...
The software-defined WAN has come just in time to support the decentralized, cloud-based, bandwidth-hungry applications remote users demand.
If you're old enough you'll remember the "branch office" from which a few workers tied to headquarters via a PBX or VPN line -- and that was enough.
But as remote and branch offices grew in popularity, they then needed high-speed switched LANs, high-performance PCs, and servers. IT upgraded and extended the same employee services and applications used in their central offices -- email, sales force automation, customer relationship management, and some office productivity applications, for example -- out to the branches.
In this recent era, virtually all of the management functionality focused on individual technology domains such as LANs, WANs, servers, and databases. IT had almost no interest or ability to measure the actual application response times as seen by the employees who used them.
Time to Decentralize
Then companies everywhere realized the enormous flexibility, productivity gains, and cost reductions that came with setting up more branches, including home offices for telecommuters. Telecommuting has been nonstop. In fact, a 2014 New York Times article cited the Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimate that telecommuting had risen 79% between 2005 and 2012 and made up 2.6% of the American workforce, or 3.2 million workers. Today, according to Nemertes Research data, up to 80% of enterprise employees and contractors are now located in large branch and regional offices. As the branch and regional offices have grown, so have branch office business applications. Today's organizations have an average of 6.1 products per branch, Nemertes has reported.
At the same time the advent of cloud has both increased and decentralized applications and service use. "These days the office is built on cloud-based apps," noted a Forbes article from three years ago. Back in 2011 this Small Business Trends article recommended 101 cloud applications. That's 101!
Cloud Applications Exploding
The cloud application explosion plus the growth of branch (remote) offices presents a whole new challenge for business IT. How do we cost-effectively connect standardized applications and services, and also support whatever productivity applications workers want to use to get the job done?
IT can answer this question in a few ways: Limit worker access to certain applications, improve real-time applications so they perform better, try to achieve higher levels of overall security... and the list goes on. But no matter what the answer, IT has to connect all these services and applications together while maintaining performance and security. What to do?
A Traditional WAN Won't Work
The need for a network that can affordably handle the modern branch office workloads brought on by mobile devices and new applications has never been greater. This is a challenge because network bottlenecks often arise in traditional architectures based on hardware-centric, proprietary, and outdated technologies.
Enterprise networks are the last frontiers for change, driven by the need to provide remote offices with bandwidth-hungry applications and services.
Branch offices typically have to deal with the complexity of mixed transports, including cable, DSL, MPLS, and LTE. Plus businesses have to connect hardware appliances on both sides of every connection and deal with the characteristics of each type of transport differently.
To overcome this complexity, a new WAN technology, software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) is bringing cloud and virtualization technologies together to create a much needed virtual network. Being able to connect branch offices securely to the cloud with a virtual network abstracts the underlying complexities.
With SD-WAN, the advantages of software-defined networking (SDN) aren't limited to the data center any longer. SD-WAN abstracts network hardware into a control plane and multiple data planes that, when used with cloud-based management and automation, can simplify the delivery of services to the branch office. This is all done with the manageability, performance, and reliability assurances that enterprises expect. With adoption of virtualization and cloud technologies such as SD-WAN, enterprises can be more flexible, efficient, and cost effective while utilizing their underlying networks.
Your dad wouldn't have needed a virtualized WAN, but you probably do... and it has come just in time for the 100+ decentralized, bandwidth-hungry applications you may want to use.