2017: The Year of Branch Network Simplification
SD-WAN will be a key driver for transitioning the branch network from a static entity to a dynamic enabler of business opportunity.
There has long been a consensus that integrated network appliances lead to simpler, easy to manage and deploy networks, and 2017 will be the year that we start seeing the integrated network appliance widely in actual deployments.
However, this trend isn't taking shape the way it was predicted. It's not NFV driving the change, as most businesses have rejected the DIY approach to networking. They aren't interested in integrating services themselves, and multi-vendor orchestration systems haven't materialized outside the service provider space.
Rather, the integrated branch network appliance has been realized through the ever-growing functionality available in SD-WAN. While the range and level of this functionality varies, SD-WAN technology has expanded to encompass many networking functions that used to be available in stand-alone solutions, including routing, WAN optimization, firewalls, and wireless access points. In general, these SD-WAN integrated edge appliances are offered by a single vendor with pre-integrated services that are configured and controlled through a centralized policy system.
But why now? And why SD-WAN? Several factors are at work, converging on the inevitability of SD-WAN:
- Focus on the Application -- As business line owners take on more responsibility for selecting and managing applications, they expect a network that adapts to the application as well as reporting at the application level. SD-WAN is ideally suited to this, as centralized policies focus on ensuring application-level SLAs. With a multi-vendor branch network, it's almost impossible to create a consistent policy for individual applications or report across the service chain on application performance and usage. But SD-WAN has the application at the center of its architecture, making it simple to share application definition and reporting across network services.
- Trends in the Global Workforce -- To grow in today's competitive environment, businesses need to go where talent is. Accommodating a mobile workforce, growth through acquisition, and an increase in the number of smaller offices all demand a more agile network. Companies want a network that is quick to deploy and easily adapts to changing and overlapping subnets and on-demand bandwidth sources. By using SD-WAN to integrate services and centralize configurations and policies, the network has become less rigid and more suited to accommodate change.
- Improvements in Processors -- By definition, an integrated appliance requires that single appliance to perform more functions without a decrease in performance and within an acceptable price range. Innovation in processors has made it possible to achieve more with less by moving many common functions to hardware. Intel Atom processors are leading this trend toward a system on a chip, with multiple cores, DPDK, and encryption available to allow SD-WAN to accomplish more functions at network speed without needing custom ASICsor multiple processors.
- Growth in Internet and Cloud -- As more applications have moved to the cloud, more network traffic has moved to Internet links, making broadband and wireless an accepted part of an enterprise network. SD-WAN has accelerated this trend by applying traffic management technologies to make Internet links a viable option for WAN traffic as well. This is gradually making SD-WAN a must-have solution for every branch location, while decreasing the amount of functionality required from other network services. For example, the growth in cloud usage is minimizing the value of standalone WAN optimization, making it ideal for folding into an integrated appliance. Similarly, the growth in broadband links and the move to hosted voice and UC has lessened the importance of special purpose ports and cards that were available on standalone ISRs, making routing a natural technology to add to an integrated appliance as well.
- Rise of the Apple Mindset -- Today, retail stores and restaurants can operate on not much more than an iPad. People are becoming conditioned to believe that technology should be easy and provide immediate value out of the box. Traditional network services with their obscure CLIs are viewed as increasingly archaic. And individually selecting and configuring multiple appliances, each with its own management system, bucks the trend toward fast deployments. SD-WAN has been a leading technology for simplifying IT with services such as zero-touch deployment, cloud hosted services, automatic bandwidth adaptation and default application SLA. This makes it a natural choice to expand into taking on a larger role in the branch network.
All these trends taken together are changing how people think about and approach their network, driving the push away from a multi-vendor, multi-box branch network and toward an integrated edge appliance that is easy to deploy, manage, and troubleshoot. And in 2017, SD-WAN will continue to push enterprise networks forward.