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SD-WAN is everywhere
(have you noticed?)

Ahmed Elbornou

by Ahmed Elbornou

Software Engineer, Cisco

SD-WAN is working behind the scenes to create new customer experiences – even if customers don’t know it.

Recently, I’ve been on a mindfulness quest: to be present and cognizant of my surroundings. Strangely, on a recent trip to the bank, my mindfulness exercise gave way to an informal lesson in technology innovation.

When I walked into the branch, I saw how much technology influences customers’ everyday experience. Guest Internet access is available, and digital displays appear in many corners of the bank. Some customers are using apps on their smartphones to check in or browse their accounts. 

Customers' ability to complete these tasks is part of what executives keep talking about in terms of digital transformation. To deliver this kind of functionality, the bank branch is transformed into a service provider of sorts -- with all the challenges that come with it, from additional bandwidth requirements to security burdens and beyond. One can’t help but remember Abraham Lincoln’s quote: “I can make more generals, but horses cost money.”

Software-defined wide area  (SD-WAN) architecture packages customized networking technologies. This provides companies with multiple offices or branches, as well as high volumes of users and applications, with a secure and efficient solution for smart enterprise wide area network (WAN) connectivity.

Many companies, like the bank described above, have done an infrastructure reboot to digitize their branches. This kind of IT facelift often entails hardware and software upgrades, new tools and processes to manage these complex elements, WAN and Internet transmission upgrades to accommodate the bandwidth demands of applications and services, and tighter security to protect consumers' data.

CIOs struggle to deliver this kind of functionality without breaking the bank. Indeed, while 78% of executives say achieving digital transformation is critical to staying competitive these days, companies need to deliver these kinds of services while keeping control of costs.

Here is a list of the kinds of requirements that IT directors and C-level executives are trying to satisfy:

  1. A spike in the number of endpoints (fueled by Internet of Things adoption) in dispersed geographical locations that demand secure virtual private network (VPN) connectivity to the WAN.
  2. More endpoints translates into a significant increase in data, which translates into a surge in bandwidth requirements, with all of these applications generating large amounts of data, communicating between branches and remote data centers (20% to 50% Increase in enterprise bandwidth per year).
  3. Even more challenging, is that those remote data centers are diverse in type and location. Some will be made up of private clouds, and some will access public cloud services from the likes of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud and so on. These clouds need to be connected to the main headquarters to transfer data back and forth, which creates added expense (58% of IT dollars are spent on WAN connectivity).
  4. Companies will need more hardware to accommodate different connectivity requirements to these various kinds of clouds.
  5. Now consider how difficult it would be to manage and orchestrate the above, especially in the face of increasing security threats. According to Gartner's Forecast Analysis: Worldwide Enterprise Networks, an estimated 30% of advanced threats target branch offices.

To address these requirements, an SD-WAN architecture would offer these technical advantages bundled together:

  1. Intelligent path control for the network over a transport-independent design, allowing multiple data transmission types, whether wireless, wired or cellular, to get efficiently utilized, without having to stack additional hardware.
  2. Today's application-aware WAN requires application visibility, off the shelf, leading to balanced bandwidth optimization and control.
  3. As the number of data centers proliferate, managing the infrastructure becomes quite complex. SD-WAN would enable zero-touch deployment and policy management of complex connectivity scenarios from a centralized location, reducing operation expenditures.
  4. Enterprises shouldn’t compromise security just because the number of endpoints proliferates. They should be able to block attacks and provide end-to-end security at the perimeter, at endpoint devices, and in the cloud.

The rise of the technology trend of bring-your-own-device, where end users routinely add personal devices to an IT environment, generating more endpoints for the enterprise to manage and secure.  SD-WAN architecture enables seamless connectivity of these devices. So too, SD-WAN can accommodate this infrastructure whether a data center relies on private, public or hybrid cloud environments; connectivity and data exchange should be possible.

Dispersed workforces are becoming the norm, the IT infrastructure needs to provide employees with anytime/anywhere access via resilient, secure connectivity. Further, the infrastructure needs to be able to accommodate proliferating devices and data.

SD-WAN architecture not only enables global businesses to serve workforces and customers cost effectively, it also accommodates all the new technologies that have emerged in recent years: management automation and orchestration using programmability, fast failure detection and remedy, and an analytics-based, in-depth visibility into the network. Because SD-WAN virtualizes the hardware that needs management, SD-WAN can do that regardless of the location of networking components. As a result, SD-WAN is the ecosystem that answers the cloud needs of today and tomorrow.

About the author

Ahmed Elbornou is a software engineer at Cisco Systems. He became an engineer after a decade of technology consulting, where he helped mobile operators design their networks. Previously, Elbornou led a group of researchers to advocate for open source and computer security at a nonprofit organization.

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Ahmed Elbornou, Software Engineer

Ahmed Elbornou, Software Engineer

Ahmed Elbornou is a software engineer at Cisco Systems. He became an engineer after a decade of technology consulting, where he helped mobile operators design their networks. Previously, Elbornou led a group of researchers to advocate for open source and computer security at a nonprofit organization.