The rapid adoption rates of public cloud and SaaS-based applications and services are fueling an incredible transformation in how we get work done. Think about the typical workday of a knowledge worker about fifteen years ago. He had a cellphone so he could take calls outside the office, maybe even a Blackberry or Treo to send and receive emails. But most of his time was spent working in the office on his desktop PC or, in some cases, a bulky laptop. The IT organization maintained all systems in the data center and had complete control over what devices and applications he used. Fast-forward to today and users have become highly mobile, using bandwidth-hogging applications for video conferencing and real-time file sharing and collaboration. They’re working for enterprises that embrace a DevOps model that favors cloud-based systems. IT struggles to meet the needs of today’s users, who demand increased agility and simplicity and would just as soon bypass IT entirely to start using new cloud-based applications. This creates a performance gap between the needs of the business and what IT can provide. Closing this gap requires companies to adopt a new approach to managing the enterprise IT infrastructure.
It’s mind-boggling to think about things that are possible today that seemed impossible just 10 years ago. Imagine if you proposed in 2005 to set up several new servers and storage resources, install the various applications, ensure that users at all branch offices and other remote locations have seamless access to these applications on all their devices, and have it all up and running within 24 hours. You would have been laughed out of the room.
After all, that would have been before the 2006 introduction of Amazon Web Services (AWS), the 2007 unveiling of the first iPhone, and several of the other developments that served as the catalysts for the digital transformation. Today, you can spin up servers, storage resources, and applications in minutes. And users don’t just ask for 24/7 access on all their devices free from performance-related issues — they demand.
Hybrid WAN Increases Management Complexity
Nostalgia reminds us of simpler times when the Wide Area Network (WAN) resembled a straight line: All apps were housed on-premise, and everything was connected over a single, unified WAN. This model gave rise to the traditional branch routing solutions market.
But instead of this centralized, secure, and operationally efficient IT architecture, the new enterpise network is complex, insecure, and unpredictable. Today, the WAN looks like a web of lines connecting the data center, branch offices, cloud solutions, and applications. According to Gartner’s 2015 Market Overview for SD-WAN, “Network managers now find branch office network solutions to be increasingly complex and inflexible, as well as costly to deploy and manage.”
Yes, it’s possible to configure traditional routers to manage a hybrid WAN. However, that creates a number of issues IT organizations are finding increasingly difficult to overcome. Hybrid WANs can be:
- Complex and costly to manage: Hybrid WAN technologies carry high operational costs when managed with traditional approaches.
- Inflexible and fragile: Small changes in configuration are hard to get right and can break an increasingly complex network.
- More bandwidth: Gartner reports that demand for bandwidth is growing 30 percent per year, driven by video, cloud, real-time collaboration applications, and the growth of the digital enterprise. (Source: Gartner: Technology Overview for SD-WAN. July 2, 2015)
- More difficult to secure: Direct Internet access at multiple remote sites bypasses data center-grade security services, making hybrid WANs a security challenge.
- Poor visibility and performance: Encrypted apps (SSL, TLS, HTTPS) and SaaS vendor opacity compromise end-to-end visibility. Limited MPLS capacity and no SLAs for Internet broadband result in unpredictable performance slowdowns that users will notice.
The Riverbed Application Performance Survey 2015 found that these issues are increasing the disconnect between IT and the other lines of business. Eighty-nine percent of the business executives surveyed say that poor application performance negatively impacts their business on a regular basis. Seventy-one percent of business leaders say they are frequently “in the dark” about what causes those performance problems. IT continues to be far too disconnected from the business.
So, what is the solution? In a software-defined, cloud-centric world, a fundamental rethinking of networking is needed to align the needs of the modern, digital business with its network architecture. Legacy approaches that are hardware-centric and command line interface (CLI)-driven are too rigid, complex, and error prone for the cloud era.
The question is, “How do we expand WAN capabilities to keep up with the needs of business without compromising agility, performance, or visibility?” The answer is SD-WAN.
Software-define WAN (SD-WAN) enables IT 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 management via virtual network designs, zero-touch provisioning, and easy change management. With SD-WAN, IT can deploy and manage remote branch connectivity in a cost-effective way.
SD-WAN is an emerging technology. But that emergence won’t take long. IDC expects the market to grow from less than $225 million in 2015 to more than $6 billion in 2020. The network is finally within reach of the digital transformation that has reshaped the rest of the enterprise IT architecture. According to Forrester Research, SD-WAN aligns with key strategic initiatives of modern enterprises by increasing bandwidth capacity for branch offices, expanding cloud usage, and enabling employee mobility. Businesses expect SD-WAN to offer many benefits – including low TCO, more efficient utilization of network resources, and increased network security.
Evaluating SD-WAN Solutions
The new enterprise network is quite complex, as we stated earlier. To effectively respond to the challenges of the cloud era, enterprise IT should look at 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.
When evaluating specific SD-WAN solutions, look for three key capabilities:
- Unified connectivity and management across WAN, remote LAN, and cloud networks: A software-defined and application-defined connectivity fabric that spans WANs, remote office LANs, and cloud infrastructure networks is a key component of a successful SD-WAN solution.
- Business-aligned orchestration: Instead of managing networks through the configuration of individual appliances, it’s more effective to implement policy-based orchestration. Enterprise IT should be able to easily set up global or local policies, eliminating the need to enter hundreds or thousands of lines of CLI code to make network and application changes.
- Cloud-centric management workflow: Bring the agile and simplified cloud-centric workflow 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 for providing instant deployment of physical devices, and central management of global network policies.
The Evolution of NetOps
This holistic approach to infrastructure management also applies to the roles and responsibilities of network engineers, architects, and the entire IT department. Businesses are moving their operations to the cloud for greater agility, and they expect the same level of agility in their network. They need network operations to ensure secure, reliable access to those cloud-based applications and workloads. This new breed of network engineer will help departments evaluate and solve their business needs. Increasingly, this function will be seen as a strategic business partner and will be critical to ensuring that the business can respond to the changing expectations of its internal and external customers. But for this to occur, network engineers have to embrace the tools that will bring enterprise networking to the cloud era.
Milind Bhise is the Senior Director of Product Marketing at Riverbed Technologies and has over twenty years of experience in networking and telecom. Prior to 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.
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