Simplifying Deployment and Management of Branch Office Networks

By Ari Bose, CIO, Brocade

Ari Bose, CIO, Brocade

Branch offices are growing at a rate of 17 percent and a recent report states that approximately 75 percent of enterprise employees work remotely or in a branch office already. With the growth in branch offices, networks are getting larger and more widespread.

Furthermore, even as customers and employees are becoming increasingly distributed across the globe, and physically farther apart from headquarters and from each other, they expect to have a seamlessly connected experience. Delivering that experience increases the demands on branch networks. For example:

• Networks must enable quick access to corporate assets in order to facilitate the exchange of information between employees in all locations in real-time.
• Branches must be full-service; everything you can do at headquarters, you should be able to do at the branch. This requires a high level of network performance.
• Networks must deliver this high level of connectivity securely to avoid data breaches and security issues, as information is shared seamlessly and efficiently.

"The future of branch office network deployment and management should be as easy as setting up a cable box"

Moreover, trends in technology are increasing the sophistication and complexity of network infrastructure and operations of a typical branch, putting additional pressure on the management of the networks:

• Increased reliance on Software-as-a-Service and cloud applications that require businesses to enable and secure increased internet traffic at the branch sites.
• Growing use of high-bandwidth applications, such as real-time communication and collaboration technologies that increase the risks of downtime and slow network performance.
• Pervasive and increasing security threats, which require protection against attackers that target an organization’s weakest links, typically at the network edge.

These trends, along with an increased desire for an optimal connected experience are causing distributed organizations to seek branch office solutions that provide high network performance and security, centralized and automated management capabilities, and cost efficiencies across the branch network infrastructure and operations.

Herein lies the problem. While business needs and trends demand networks that are flexible and scalable, meeting these demands is very difficult. Despite advancements in technology, branch network deployment and management is still very time-consuming and complex.

Why is deployment time consuming and expensive?

• Today, deployments require manual installation of multiple components; a typical branch office has more than six basic components to enable routing, VPN, firewall, and other key networking capabilities.
• These manual configurations take time, are prone to human error, and often require rework. A recent study suggested that7 0 percent of network outages are caused by human errors.
• Since configurations must be performed manually, engineers must travel to each branch to configure each component. This translates into travel costs in an already tightly constrained spending environment.
• Because companies often deploy branches across various countries, hardware must be shipped internationally. This means that companies must deal with import and export regulations that can further delay deployment of the branch and increase the cost.

Did you know that a typical branch office installation takes 30 days and costs can range anywhere from $30K to $100K?

Not only are deployments time consuming and expensive; managing the network is very complex. Why?

• Solutions available in the market are based on a static network architecture that is difficult, if not impossible, to adapt or scale to changing needs.
• There is limited visibility into the performance of the network, which increases the difficulty in troubleshooting problems related to network or application performance. Tools are not always capable of reporting issues in real time or correlating network problems with device configurations.
• Reconfiguration of existing branches is often required when a new branch is added. Because of the interdependencies across the network, the addition of a branch can impact the entire network. This makes the network less scalable and increases the time spent managing it (unnecessarily so).
• There is a reliance on multiple third party providers, such as network operators and hardware vendors to ensure networks work, which requires additional coordination and may limit system agility.

Did you know that ongoing operations account for 80 percent of the total cost of ownership for a branch office network?

The amount of time and money that companies spend deploying and managing branch networks is staggering: More than 30 percent of overall operating costs and up to 80 percent of IT resource time go to manual configuration and ongoing management of branch networks. This heavy dependency on manual management of networks limits IT teams’ ability to focus on more value-adding and innovative projects.

As an industry, we need to work harder to develop a solution that makes branch network management easier, flexible, scalable, and cost effective by limiting the need for:

• Multiple hardware devices to provide key networking functionality, such as routing, VPN, and firewalls;
• Manual provisioning and configuration;
• Onsite specialized engineers to deploy and manage the branch network.

We will meet our customers’ needs when we deliver a solution that effectively:

• Collapses key services and functions onto common hardware to eliminate the need for expensive purpose-built components;
• Allows for software-based orchestration, enabling zero-touch provisioning and remote automation;
• Virtualizes hardware functions;
• Provides a single point of configuration.

I think the future of branch office network deployment and management should be as easy as setting up a cable box. A networking company ships a switch to a branch office, a user plugs in the wires and all the setup and management is done remotely. That’s where we need to get to as an industry and that’s where SDN controllers and vRouter platforms can really make a difference. Do you agree?