BYOD and SaaS Present Big WAN Management Challenges
According to a new survey from Versa and Dimensional Research, 97 percent of network professionals can identify at least three challenges they’re facing related to wide area network (WAN) management. Branch office network management — thanks to demand, security and device sprawl — has become a wide-area headache for many businesses.
Two-thirds of network professionals surveyed say they use more than six physical network and security devices at each branch. Eighty-eight percent work with multiple security vendors in an effort to manage current risks and deploy new security solutions.
One developing solution that improved WAN management is software-defined WAN (SD-WAN). Researchers found 6 in 10 companies would be open to purchasing an SD-WAN solution, and 80 percent would prefer an integrated SD-WAN and security solution, indicating high future demand for companies providing SDN solutions.
Gartner analyst Bjarne Munch, as reported by Versa CEO and founder Kumar Mehta in SDX Central, predicts 30 percent of WAN contracts will incorporate virtualized network functions (VNF) by 2020. VNF virtualizes network functions in Layers 3 through 7 and, much like server virtualization, re-envisions networking as a flexible bundle of services. Current levels of VNF adoption for the WAN, however, are just 1 percent, signaling the potential for explosive growth over the next three years.
The Rise of SD-WAN
SD-WAN centralizes control of switching, using software to determine efficient data pathways and improve quality of service (QoS). As David Jacobs of The Jacobs Group explains in TechTarget, SDN can succeed where current traditional routing and switching solutions have failed.
Jacobs says traditional algorithms can’t react quickly enough to deal with the rapidly escalating demand. SDN controllers can make adjustments more quickly, not only between branches and data centers but between WANs and carriers as well. An SDN controller makes it easier to mix and match LTE, broadband and Carrier Ethernet for optimal traffic flow. Controllers can also allocate low-quality, less-expensive links to low-priority applications while reserving high-quality, expensive links for situations requiring high QoS and fast throughput.
Combining Security and WAN Management
For businesses operating multiple branches, ensuring multi-site security is difficult and costly. A software-defined security approach leverages VNF, as does SD-WAN, by abstracting controls away from devices. When businesses put commodity hardware and VNF into place, they lay the foundation for combining both approaches.
Mehta says SD-WAN’s greatest strength is its ability to manage internet connectivity alongside multi-protocol label switching (MPLS). With software-defined security, which moves away from dedicated appliances, security can become integrated into WAN management. Deploying SD-WAN may require some initial investment in the acquisition and deployment of VNF devices and controller applications, but the long-term benefits include increased agility, less complexity, lower long-term costs and improved security stack customization.
Growing Branch Network Complexity
Another challenge for network professionals is managing the growing number of devices present in their branches. The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend means more employee devices in the workplace, but these aren’t the only culprits; many branches are seeing explosive growth in unified communications devices, wired and wireless CCTV, sensors and other endpoints that rely on strong WAN management.
Dr. Cahit Akin, co-founder and CEO of Mushroom Networks, sees SD-WAN as a key emerging solution for device proliferation. In addition to managing environmental controls, CCTV and physical security measures (like on-site alarms), Akin wrote in a Network Computing article that SD-WAN can facilitate the rollout and management of cloud-based IP-PBX to multiple branches, improving video and voice quality in multiple scenarios.
Despite low initial SD-WAN adoption rates, experts tout WAN management as one of the most exciting initial SDN use cases. IDC predicts that SD-WAN will be a $6-billion industry by 2020.