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Industrial Ethernet Book Issue 103 / 11
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Next generation software-defined Wide Area Networks

Software-defined WAN technology leverages and virtualizes multiple types of connections between business locations, as well as connections between data centers, remote offices, and cloud resources. SD-WAN also provides a way to leverage broadband Internet while incorporating traditional dedicated WAN technologies.

SOFTWARE-DEFINED WIDE AREA NETWORKS are becoming the basis for a new generation of WANs for enterprises and service providers. Just as Frame Relay and ATM migrated to MPLS for business connectivity, the combination of SD-WAN, migration to the cloud, and commodity Internet broadband are offering a compelling, affordable and flexible option to augment the WAN. The move to SD-WAN becomes imperative as demand increases for business critical, bandwidth hungry real time applications in offices and field locations.


Software-defined WAN leverages and virtualizes multiple types of connections between business locations including data centers, remote offices and the cloud.

The traditional WAN

Before diving into the new world of SD-WAN, let′s review traditional wide area networks. A WAN traditionally connects a company′s business locations together, creating what′s essentially a single large network that might span multiple locations within a city, locations in many cities, or even locations across national boundaries or around the world. Those businesses might have one or more data centers, and multiple offices that have remote workers. The goal is to provide seamless connectivity between remote locations and the applications they reply upon, no matter where those applications are hosted.

Workers inside a business location are connected via a local area network (LAN), which is a private, high-speed network, installed, owned and maintained by the business. The LAN can be wired and wireless using technologies like Ethernet and WiFi. Likewise, servers within a data center are also tied together with high-speed LANs.

The WAN ties those sites together. By contrast with the high-speed, private LAN owned by the business, WANs are services traditionally provisioned by telecommunications companies. WANs are much slower than LANs, and incur monthly charges based on bandwidth, guaranteed reliability, and the distance between the sites. WANs can take weeks or months to set up, and just as long to make service changes, such as to adding bandwidth to handle new demands.

There are many telecommunications technologies used to implement traditional WANs. Older technologies include leased lines, Frame Relay, ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode). One of the most popular WAN technologies today is MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching). While MPLS-based WANs run across one or more carriers′ networks using complex protocols, they can be thought of as highly reliable, very secure, point-to-point links between a business′ sites. The downside of MPLS-based WANs is that they are expensive, slow to provision, and difficult to change to adapt to varying requirements.

Why not use the Internet for connecting business locations? The Internet is ubiquitous, inexpensive and flexible. However, the Internet is famously unreliable, both in terms of uptime and in the ability to deliver consistent throughput. It′s also insecure, and without additional security, cannot be trusted for intra-business traffic, such as accessing key business applications, servers or files.

The challenge is that businesses are increasingly frustrated with traditional WANs. IT professionals and executives like that WANs are reliable, predictable and secure. On the other hand, businesses don′t like the monthly expense, slow provisioning times and the lack of flexibility. They also don′t like that WANs become more complex when the business locations are in different countries. Finally, with the emergence of cloud computing, the traditional WAN falls short architecturally to the needs of the new paradigm.

The SD-WAN World

Software-defined WAN leverages and virtualizes multiple types of connections between business locations, including data centers and remote offices, as well as connections between data centers, remote offices, and cloud resources. SD-WAN leverages broadband Internet while providing the ability to incorporate traditional dedicated WAN technologies like MPLS. SD-WAN is transport agnostic and overlays controls that deliver quality of experience and ensure reliability, predictability, security, manageability, and reduced cost. For example, a company may have several data centers, large offices with hundreds of employees, and small field offices. It may use cloud-based services for applications, servers, and storage, with a mandate to eventually migrate the bulk of its data centers to the cloud.

From the users′ perspective, SD-WAN is a single wide area network that offers trustworthy security, plenty of bandwidth, service reliability, quality of service (QoS) that ensures a good user experience when making calls using Voice over IP (VoIP) or videoconferencing, and seamless access to both data center and cloud applications.

From the IT perspective, SD-WAN offers a single interface to manage the wide area network, with the ability to rapidly adjust the services to accommodate new requirements, or to provision new services. However, under the surface SD-WAN takes advantage of multiple types of network connections, including traditional WAN technologies, the public Internet, and even cellular data connections.

Demand is escalating for business critical, real time applications such as voice, video and virtual desktop applications. Adding more private circuits for these bandwidth hungry applications is expensive and does not improve cloud application connectivity. A cost effective solution is to leverage broadband public Internet to augment the MPLS links by using SD-WAN.

Employees in main offices and branches need to access Software-as-a-Service applications. SD-WAN understands the location of those applications, and will direct user sessions directly to the cloud efficiently, using the high quality link for the highest priority applications. This represents a significant improvement over the traditional WAN architecture model, which routes remote employee traffic over the MPLS network back to a data center and then redirects cloud application traffic from there to the Internet. This adds delay and consumes unnecessary WAN bandwidth.

In short, SD-WAN leverages multiple WAN technologies and other connections, lowering monthly costs, simplifying operations, adding agility, providing full security, and offering end users an exceptional experience. It′s a perfect technology for connecting branch offices and even short-term "pop-up" business locations that need to be brought up instantly such as construction sites.

Implementing the SD-WAN

Generally speaking, SD-WAN is a software control layer that contains a few parts. There is a management tool implemented in a dashboard that provides easy administration by IT professionals, with minimal effort by staff in the field location. There is a control plane, that actively and intelligently manages and routes network traffic over all available communications technologies in accordance with business priorities. And there is a business policy framework, which sets requirements and baselines for security, quality of service, cost controls, user experience and priorities.

SD-WAN controls can be located within the business′ data center, but optimally it will be run via the cloud, where it is equally accessible to all business locations, and where it can be managed as Software-as-a-Service - thereby reducing the workload on corporate IT.

Enterprises have options when it comes to choosing SD-WAN. They can contract directly with a provider of the SD-WAN software solution, and implement it using internal staff. For some organizations, that will be the best choice. For others, there are new SD-WAN offerings from major telecommunications service providers, who are adding SD-WAN to their portfolio of WAN offerings.

For example, a new AT&T SD-WAN service will let businesses prioritize and route data across their networks based on the performance requirements of the applications. The offering, powered by SD-WAN, will also let businesses better manage their bandwidth. The SD-WAN offering will come in two flavors: a network-based offering and a premises-based solution.

Cloud-delivered SD-WAN technology from VeloCloud, part of this new SD-WAN solution, offers technology for true multi tenancy, automatic link monitoring, auto-detection of WAN and Internet providers and auto-configuration of link characteristics, routing and quality-of-service settings. QoS settings are configured based on a database of more than 2,500 applications, and helps determine the best paths for applications based on the business policies set by the customer.

In addition, the system provides resilience that goes beyond both the public Internet and traditional MPLS WANs, taking advantage of real-time network performance to ensure that performance-dependent applications, such as voice and video calling, are given the proper priority - and blackouts, brownouts, and excessive delay and jitter can be remediated quickly, with sub-second responses.

For agile businesses, branch office connectivity is not a luxury; it′s business-critical. SD-WAN introduces enterprise WAN to the cloud era enabling quality of experience, reduction in Capex and Opex while simplifying branch WAN infrastructure.

Mike Wood is VP Marketing at VeloCloud.


Source: Industrial Ethernet Book Issue 103 / 11
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