Digital Innovation and the impact of Internet of Things (IoT) are among key drivers pushing Cloud networking technology on to center stage as one of this generation’s most disruptive game changers.

As the gap between network demands and available budget continues to widen, traditional Wide Area Networks (WANs) are being challenged.  SD-WAN is seen as key in driving improved return on network investment, in making enterprise network services agile and in enabling a new consistent level of network security in today’s increasingly Cloud-centric world.

International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that “worldwide SD-WAN revenues will exceed $6 billion in 2020 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 90% over the 2015-2020 forecast period.”

According to IDC, “The emergence of SD-WAN is a relatively recent market development, preceded by the existence of hybrid WAN architectures. SD-WANs leverage these hybrid WANs, but incorporate a centralized, application-based policy controller, analytics for application and network visibility, a software overlay that abstracts underlying networks, and an optional SD-WAN forwarder that together provides intelligent path selection across WAN links.”

It’s all about the “user experience”

As we head into the new software-enabled network world, today’s topology is built on a premise that the “user experience”, or how your employees interact and use the tools to do their jobs, is more dynamic and needs to scale in ways never thought of before.  In the ever-growing Internet of Things (IoT), today’s “user” can connect to the network through any number of devices; whether corporate devices or even their own.  Those devices connect to corporate applications via a multitude of connection types, like broadband or wireless Internet.  And with the advent of Cloud technologies, data and applications are no longer hosted in one or two data centers…the “servers” are often dispersed anywhere throughout the world.

“The network topology of today needs to be software-enabled to truly be Cloud-connected.  This new software-enabled network will need to be able to support an unending amount of devices dynamically, accessing an unlimited number of connections, connecting to an ever changing library of Cloud-hosted applications, with efficiency and elasticity,” said Wilfred Kwan, Chief Operating Officer, Reliance Communications (Enterprise) and Global Cloud Xchange.

A big challenge for today’s enterprises is dynamically managing and controlling a huge number of IoT devices with thousands of connections and even more connectivity options, to a range of Cloud-hosted services. That, in a nutshell, is the requirement that the new software-enabled network needs to address.

“For enterprise CIOs, the decision of what to software enable, really depends on users and where their applications are hosted.   Some SD-WAN platforms focus more on the ability for branch offices to utilize more cost-effective connectivity methods, while others focus on getting the users’ packets streaming to the Cloud faster,” said Tom Gowen, President of North America, Global Cloud Xchange.  “The GCX CLOUD X WAN, for example, emphasizes the use of high-bandwidth, low-cost connectivity options at enterprise branch locations, connecting to Cloud-hosted applications through the optimal network path, and the on-demand deployment of pre-built network service chains through Network Function Virtualization (NFV); all orchestrated and controlled via a single web portal.”

SD-WAN and NFV delivering benefits to the enterprise user

Going beyond 2016, SD-WAN followed by NFV is expected to deliver significant benefits to multinational enterprises.  Intelligent edge devices running software-based virtualized network functions on virtual computing machines will increasingly replace the multitude of specialist appliances that currently run these network services at sites in today’s enterprise networks.  Benefits from this scenario mean that a single, low-cost piece of equipment can become truly multi-functional; capable of running a number of key network services including router, firewall, load-balancer, network optimization, VPN encryption and more.

While this capability has been available for many years and utilized by telco service providers, it is now just trending into the enterprise arena with deployment within public Clouds capturing growth momentum.

“NFV, in particular, is offering clear benefits to enterprise users as it drives value and savings in a number of ways.  For example, numerous expensive individual appliances are replaced by virtual machines running on a “white box” which provides various software-based applications and services,” said Kwan.  “This translates into massive savings in hardware costs as a single device can now run multiple services.  Also, the complexity of traditional “premium” services (i.e., optimization, advanced security, anti-virus, etc.) is reduced, making these value-added services much more accessible to the enterprise.”

SD-WAN:  Redefining WAN Optimization

SD-WAN offers enterprises tremendous agility, efficiency and cost-savings.  Enterprises can deploy a mixture of expensive dedicated and commodity Internet networks into remote offices with on-demand capacity and centralized controls.  These networks can be easily optimized for quality and performance.

But extending SD-WAN into the Cloud is a different story.  Cloud resources are dynamic.  Auto-scaling is a common use case and a good example.  Cloud servers and applications are provisioned dynamically with different locations and Cloud provider options.  For SD-WAN to work in the Cloud, the controller must be very intelligent and a part of the Cloud orchestration.  This allows automatic extension of SD-WANs to the Cloud server networks and provide unification of the entire enterprise network environment in real-time.

“It’s inevitable that SD-WAN will be a part of the Cloud deployment model in the near future similar to NFVs in the service chain model.  To make this a reality, intelligent orchestrators with knowledge and control of all components are needed to provision Cloud resources and SD-WAN in real-time,” said John Yung, CEO, Appcara.  “More and more enterprise applications are distributed across different Clouds and locations for compliance and better user experience. SD-WAN controllers need to be tightly coupled with Cloud orchestrations, such as Appcara’s App360, to extend SD-WAN services to these applications operating in the Cloud.”

And the jury is in…

As SD-WAN is rapidly making waves among enterprise CIOs, an exponential increase in its deployment is evident as the mandate to drive efficiency, security and cost savings has fueled decision makers to jump on-board and make things happen.

They are liking what they see in terms of increased network agility, which translates to faster provisioning that matches the flexibility of the WAN to that of the Cloud.  Also, appealing are the significant cost savings in hardware across sites as they are replaced by a single intelligent device running virtualized network functions, in addition to savings through bandwidth optimization.

“SD-WAN also gives enterprises increased manageability, control and scalability. In addition, improved visibility through granular end-to-end performance data brings a level of transparency only previously available with expensive appliance and management platforms. This makes decision-making on network-related issues so much more informed,” Gowen added.

With most SD-WAN platforms, performance visibility is also available to the user (e.g., the enterprise IT department) via some form of portal.  While this is nothing new, and network performance data has been available through network service providers for many years, previously it required separate software, network probes and hardware systems.  Now this capability is a fundamental feature of any SD-WAN controller and platform.

In a nutshell…

From an enterprise perspective, the user experience is now defined by high performing applications, reliable connectivity, and instant access to Cloud services, as opposed to network latency, congestion and delays in adding to the network.  If Cloud was a revolution, Software-enabled networking is really the evolution of how users connect to the Cloud.

Today’s CIO…
  • Supports an increasingly geographically dispersed user base
  • Needs to support more and more “devices” including mobile, tablet and “Things”
  • Is seeing application-driven bandwidth demand grow between 20% and 50% per year
  • Is facing more and more cyber security threats, especially at branch locations
  • Needs an ever-growing range of specialist network services to deliver best value for money from IT investment
  • Is seeing the gap between network demands and available budget becoming bigger
  • Needs to be as agile as possible, taking advantage of “the Cloud” as much as is feasible and practicable with more and more applications becoming “Web-based”
In the Traditional Enterprise Network Model …
  • Internet security models often hamper Cloud performance with Cloud-bound traffic flowing in and out of centralized gateways
  • Low cost connectivity like broadband Internet is most commonly used at low criticality sites or as back-up
  • Twice the required bandwidth is often bought with “back-up” connections dormant for the vast majority of time
  • A multitude of disparate appliances (Router, Firewall, Anti-Virus, Proxy, Load balancers, WAN Optimisation … etc) are relied upon to carry complex network functions
  • Provisioning is reliant upon manual processes, can be prone to human error and it can take weeks to turn up a new site
  • Pre-existing network connections are rarely used leading to delay and duplicated cost
  • Internet performance is variable and often unreliable creating a barrier to Cloud adoption
  • Hybrid WANs blending performance-guaranteed MPLS with low-cost Internet are complex to manage


What if…
  • Low-cost Internet could be used more commonly in the network without any adverse effect on per-application user-experience?
  • The aggregate bandwidth connecting any location could be used better with “dynamic load-balancing” leading to lower connectivity costs?
  • The multitude of disparate appliances could be replaced by a single device capable of carrying out a range of network functions like firewall, Secure Internet Gateway or WAN Optimisation meaning lower capex and opex?
  • New network functions, more bandwidth or even new locations could be provisioned in minutes at the press of a button providing real agility?
  • Routing decisions to on-premise data centers or public Cloud platforms could be made on a per-application basis leading to optimised performance and connectivity?

The network finally caught up with the Cloud?