Software abstraction of the WAN? The logical step for enterprise
The history of networking since computing’s early days is one that is marked with quite a few sea changes, points at which the technology took a giant leap forward with consequences still felt to this day.
Between each of these major shifts in technological perspectives, there have been numerous incremental steps, as protocols, hardware and software methods evolved, each bringing additional speed, efficiencies, deployment models, and so on.
For those more extensive changes in the ways that computing devices intercommunicate, one could start with the emergence of ARPANET and the establishment of TCP/IP. Brits reading this will want to name-check (Sir) Tim Berners-Lee, whose invention of the world wide web changed our world to a significant degree (an event notable enough for Mr. Berners-Lee to be featured in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony).
Perhaps in a drier area of history, the emergence of ethernet had massive implications, as did the rapid spread of wifi networks – some as broad as whole metropolitan areas.
Some of those smaller, incremental steps also had more insidious effects; perhaps not game-changing the technology we all use overnight, but in time coming to play a massive role in everyday lives. Faster and faster ethernet connectivity, for example, from 10Mbits/sec to 10 or 100GB/sec has changed short distance communications, and alongside the more recent optic fiber, has enabled the data centers on which we rely to work efficiently.
In the mobile technology arena, data communications’ evolution from 3G to 4G/LTE, and recently to 5G has created the concept of a mobile workforce, on the back of a consumer-driven demand for video and streaming services on-the-go.
The latest leap forward in networking technology for businesses is indubitably SD-WAN (software defined wide area networking). SD-WAN is the networking cousin of the software abstraction family, joining its more familiar family members: virtualized servers (made ubiquitous mainly by the activities of VMWare – see below), virtualized storage networks, and hyperconvergence by which entire topologies of the data center and out into the cloud are represented and managed in a software layer.
Virtualization means that the technical intricacies typically required to manage complex networks are handled by software, that typically sits on top of commodity hardware, and allows control and management of infrastructure on the basis of resource requirements (as and when necessary), as opposed to granular resource deployments. If you need more storage, click here. Another dozen compute cores? Click here.
Software-defined wide area networking creates a scenario for businesses with distributed networks in which highly complex management activities are automated and run by highly capable software. Network traffic between branch offices, in-house data centers on different continents, public cloud resources and any other number of clusters of nodes, can be overseen and deployed according to the requirements of the organization, rather than according to the limits set by overstretched technical teams.
While IT Departments have always responded to business requirements by deploying, reconfiguring and redeploying, the processes have usually been relatively slow. That’s because there are inherent complexities in managing multiple MPLS connections from different vendors supplied by companies in different time zones, plus multiples of different branch office and edge deployment networks. Additionally, businesses are also spinning up public cloud resources, to add extra capacity.
What SD-WAN does is to create a platform-agnostic (or rather, multiple-platform agnostic) overlay, ensuring companies can safely and securely remotely manage the different resources at their disposal, without having to reconfigure at the level of individual VLANs, gateways, and internet connections, for example.
With SD-WAN technology, the business can prioritize according to particular requirements, for instance throttling back employee-facing apps’ traffic, and adding both extra bandwidth and resources to customer-facing apps. SD-WAN makes previously complex setups like scalable VDIs simple, or connecting apps between edge nodes, the public cloud, and the data center.
Here at Tech Wire Asia, we’re looking at three suppliers of SD-Wan capabilities that we feel can provide any organization with convergent network infrastructure. Whether you’re an ISP wanting to scale or add products to the portfolio on offer to your customers, or a company that’s historically struggled with setting-up effective branch office deployments, read on.
Few companies can claim to have had an impact on the world of technology (and therefore, the world today) like VMware. The company is in the group of luminaries like Apple, Google, IBM, and Microsoft, with its virtualization technologies found in every server cluster in every data center the world.
The company’s acquisition of VeloCloud was a logical step for the Palo Alto-headquartered VMware, making its technological umbrella, based on powerful abstraction layers, extend from the data center to cover the wide area network.
In-house data centers, edge deployments, and public clouds all need to seamlessly interconnect these days, and the traditional data center is diminishing in its role as a central repository for business-critical applications as organizations move to the cloud.
VeloCloud SD-WAN lets companies stop worrying about deploying, configuring and managing WAN infrastructures manually: that’s just not scalable, nor quick these days, and creates concerns about reliability & security.
With the central deployment capabilities of the SD-WAN networking platform from VMware, IT staff can automate configuration via a simple graphical interface and don’t need to be physically at a branch site to configuring the WAN-facing devices using archaic command line interfaces.
Instead, a virtual WAN layer, in concert with VMware Edge appliances (which can be installed by even a non-technical person), makes network topologies configurable according to automatable business policies, from a central location.
First to market in 2014, and still arguably the gold standard in SD-WAN, VeloCloud joins a suite of products from VMware that are powering most businesses today as they modernize their application architectures.
Read more about VeloCloud here.
Cisco network hardware is pretty much standard in data centers, in one form or another, and with that footprint & track record, the company is in a fine position to deploy its software right across much of the enterprise’s existing provisions, including across the wide area network.
The company’s DNA (Digital Network Architecture) makes provisioning and managing distributed networks quick and straightforward. According to the company, clients have spoken of a reduction in network provisioning time by 67 percent, issue resolution times down by up to 80 percent, and OPEX savings of over 60 percent.
The company’s Catalyst 9000 switch series and the Talos cyber intelligence system, threats in even encrypted traffic can be identified with very high (99 percent) degrees of accuracy, meaning that before enetering any definition of WAN, traffic is clean and safe.
The Cisco SD-WAN drops boosts performance when accessing crucial cloud services (from Office 365 to the enterprise’s own cloud-hosted applications). Additionally, uptime for connection to apps can justifiably be claimed to be 100 percent, as the Cisco abstraction layer can automatically reroute traffic onto available resources in the event of a single point of failure.
Cisco is one of the companies that built its reputation on its hardware offering but is now changing tack, realizing the future lies in software abstraction of services. The massive investment by the major cloud providers in PaaS is a testament to the solidity of Cisco’s offerings, and the company is capitalizing on its reputation for being the standard for networking – even in this abstracted context.
NOKIA (NUAGE NETWORKS)
In an industry that’s fond of its sweeping statements, Nokia’s Nuage Networks recently announced what it terms “SD-WAN 2.0”, which the company defines as edge-to-edge unification.
Unlike several other providers which have been able to release SD-WAN offerings after acquisitions – therefore necessitating a stitching together of previously competing technologies – Nuage’s virtual network services uses micro-segmentation that extends beyond the data center out to the edge and cloud.
Nuage’s offerings support platform-agnostic virtual network functions on pretty much any of the same hardware already in place that will be running data centers’ IP routing and the like. This keeps the CAPEX costs down for any enterprise going down the abstraction route.
A single management interface is used to manage the whole network: data center, edge nodes, branch offices, cloud provisions etc. In comparison to some SD-WAN suppliers, the same policy controller can be used to control abstracted systems both in the data center & across the WAN – the solution is deployable anywhere (even temporarily over 5G, LTE or 3G – at trade events and so on).
Nuage Networks’ network services gateway is a prime example of plug-and-go deployment, where even large branch office’s networking facilities can be established and managed quickly, meaning businesses no longer have to wait for new services to roll out over months.
*Some of the companies featured on this editorial are commercial partners of Tech Wire Asia