enterprisenetworkingmag

The Evolution of the SD-WAN

By Josh Dobies, Senior Director of Product Marketing & Strategy, Riverbed Technology

Josh Dobies, Senior Director of Product Marketing & Strategy, Riverbed Technology

Today’s WAN is continually changing and both the architecture and the applications it supports are becoming increasingly complex. Not long ago, most applications were housed on-premises and the WAN was a well-defined and predictable environment. Now, as more applications transition to the cloud – public, private or SaaS – the cloud has become an inseparable part of the enterprise giving IT teams the responsibility of managing both on-premises and cloud-based applications. Given the growing number of applications combined with the increasing demand for video and rich media, the public Internet is now often used in combination with MPLS to more economically address escalating bandwidth needs. Unfortunately, while the internet offers cost benefits, it does not provide the same service guarantees as MPLS and often strips IT of their ability to understand or address application performance. These changes to the WAN can jeopardize the reliability and performance of applications, and thus, businesses must find a new approach to address this shifting landscape – adequately. Here are some of the key trends facing the evolution of the WAN.

Adopting Hybrid Approach

The adoption of cloud services and the insatiable need for bandwidth, driven primarily by video and rich media, are leading to an increased reliance of public Internet as part of the WAN. The network perimeter is more distributed with more branches connected directly to the Internet along with traditional MPLS-based services. Applications are running from data centers, branches and the cloud, with users accessing them from everywhere, forcing IT to manage the delivery and performance of both on-premises and cloud apps.There’s no one-size-fits-all solution! The WAN must continue to evolve toward a hybrid mix that combines the performance of on-premise hardware with the flexibility and elasticity of cloud based network functions.Vendors, in turn, are reinventing the way WAN devices are deployed by embracing software definition, automation and service orientation in their products. These three market initiatives will eventually converge to benefit the end-users.

"The adoption of cloud services and the insatiable need for bandwidth, driven primarily by video and rich media, are leading to an increased reliance of public Internet as part of the WAN."

Managing the Network Edge

Today, business takes place at the very edge of the network perimeter – at the branch, from homes, and remote locations or on the road. Here, availability, speed and security are critical. Keeping business applications running locally in remote and branch office locations often helps address availability and speed. However, in the new hybrid WAN, direct Internet access increases the risk of a security breach, putting the company’s core intellectual property also at risk. The cloud offers agility and cost savings, but performance to users is often less than optimal and not fully under the control of IT. Enterprises must look for solutions that allow them to centralize and unify IT management from the datacenter, or cloud, all the way to the edge. IT must be able to ensure secure availability and optimal performance of applications regardless of where they are hosted, all the way to the edge, wherever users require access.

Application Performance Driven by Agility

Application performance is critically important to businesses, particularly in today’s increasingly digital world. Applications not only fulfill business functions, from facilitating manufacturing to processing sales, but also help us communicate and collaborate. They help keep our businesses moving, our employees productive and our customers happy. Today, users of those applications also have incredibly high expectations around how those applications should perform. It’s essential for IT to make applications available to users quickly. IT must be able to respond quickly to business needs, such as setting up a whole new branch office, or making a new SaaS application available to employees. The cloud introduced incredible agility, heightening business expectations for IT to respond rapidly. But, IT must further be able to ensure the performance of all those applications to users everywhere. The pressure to quickly deploy sites, rollout applications, handle change management and application performance seamlessly will continue to increase.

Managing Complex Applications

Today, applications are richer and more complex with the majority encrypted. They are delivered from the datacenter, the cloud or the edge, and users are accessing them from everywhere. With the edge becoming a hub of communication, there are increasing intelligence, performance and security requirements. To keep up with the complexity, pace, scale and demand, IT must look at solutions that abstract communication resources and automate application delivery over the WAN. They need to have automated systems and orchestration that support those abstractions and thus facilitate alignment of IT with the needs of the business.

Optimize application performance and maximize end-user productivity.

Whether apps are hosted in a branch, datacenter, or the cloud, superior application performance is expected. Poor performance can impact productivity or customer satisfaction, and unfortunately, today’s hybrid WAN has introduced new challenges. Since bandwidth is now more readily available and more affordable, the adoption of SaaS and cloud applications can happen so quickly that IT doesn’t even know what applications are in use or who is using them. They also have less visibility into end-user experience and very little ability to manage the infrastructure and control application performance. Modern day encryption masks application traffic, further complicating the distinction between various applications. IT needs visibility beyond encryption to understand the specific applications accessed by various users in order to to prioritize and direct application traffic. With this ability, IT can direct mission critical traffic over more reliable MPLS and leverage the Internet to offload less critical traffic. Application optimization should be considered as well. Since issues become more pronounced to users across a greater distance, latency to remote branch offices or the mobile workforce shouldn’t be overlooked. To address network performance completely, optimization must streamline applications, addressing specific protocols such as CIFS, HTTP, MAPI, NFS, and SQL to reduce the number of transactions across the WAN for quicker applications and less burden on communication lines.

IT needs solutions that simplify operations across their hybrid network from the datacenter or cloud to the LAN or across the hybrid WAN to users anywhere. The ability to abstract and virtualize communication resources between users and data wherever they are will become critical to meeting future agility requirements.

To deliver a unified, intuitive solution that caters to hybrid WAN topologies extending to an on-premise or cloud-based edge, vendors will need to deliver solutions that leverage centralization and automation to simplify and scale management workflows on a transport and vendor agnostic network. While software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions are being developed to satisfy these requirements, holistic solutions will unify control across the WAN, LAN, cloud and mobile workers. As with any new technology deployments, a certain transitional risk exists and hence integrated click-to-disk monitoring capabilities are essential. SD-WAN, when coupled with WAN optimization, will further improve performance and infrastructure efficiencies for OpEx.