What do YOU want from SD-WAN?

There have been a lot of discussions lately about the maturation of the SD-WAN market. Much of what I’ve read and heard is that SD-WAN has met its initial promise:

  • Improve performance over the WAN
  • Make better use of bandwidth across disparate circuits
  • Give us a central controller for management/visibility
  • In some cases, save a little money.

So is that it? Are we done? The Network Collective podcast had a great conversation about the Future of SD-WAN. There have been some really great Packet Pushers podcast episodes on this topic lately too. These really got me thinking about what else we can really ask for from SD-WAN and here are some thoughts.

My Wish List

  • Deeper Security Integrations – There’s no doubt security considerations are top of mind right now. With how rapidly remote work was foisted upon all of us with COVID-19, many needed to figure things out fast. Gartner coined the term Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) for the amalgamation of network technologies that make for secure, borderless network access. The current state of the world will certainly make the adoption of SASE much more rapid. I would like to see many of the “pure play” SD-WAN providers adapt and add more native security features to their products. Another option is to create some tight partnerships with security vendors via “service chaining”. Also great would be Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) remote access features baked right into SD-WAN solutions. This means the SD-WAN controller should have visibility and policy control over remote access users.
  • Adaptive Multi-Cloud Topologies – COVID-19 has also emphasized the importance of the cloud in order to make sure remote users still have access to the applications and resources they need. A lot of organizations are finding their cloud providers are not “one size fits all” when it comes to certain applications. This makes for some complex network designs and integrations to make it all work together. Optimizing performance across clouds natively will need to be a part of the SD-WAN story moving forward. You are seeing these problems solved today some interesting multi-cloud solutions like Alkira and Aviatrix. I firmly believe SD-WAN vendors are going to need to start building some of this to deal with it.
  • Application Performance VisibilityAIOps is helping IT operations keep up with the rapid pace of change but we’ll start to need this level of smarts in the network to the user and application level. This will help network operators quickly identify network related application performance issues using ML and AI to break down in simple terms. With the introduction of these features, network engineers will be able to quickly see what is going on and more rapidly remediate said issues.

If you were an SD-WAN Product Manager…

These are a few of my ideas but I would like to hear from you. What do you want to see from SD-WAN? Let’s say you are the product manager, it’s up to you to add features that everybody needs but do not have today. Please comment or reply to the post on social to share your thoughts!

Making the Business Case for SD-WAN

There are many things to consider for businesses to adopt a new technology into their environment. SD-WAN has emerged as a better way to build the WAN for organizations as it improves performance, adds greater redundancy and many times can reduce cost. I was fortunate to work with the Packet Pushers to create a white paper on making the Business Case for SD-WAN. Full disclosure, you do need a Packet Pushers Ignition account which is a bargain at a mere $99/yr for resources like this and access to their Slack channel in which you can find some pretty awesome networking conversations! If you want to check out the mini version for free, WAN Dynamics has a brief posted on our site here: http://www.wandynamics.com/sd-wan-building-the-business-case

I hope you find value in it and if you need to follow up, reach out to me on Twitter or LinkedIn!

Connecting the Cloud: SDN, SD-WAN and Multicloud

On the tail of a new report that details how SDN & SD-WAN are becoming a mainstream consideration within many organizations, we have been pondering on why SD-WAN and cloud based network solutions have struck such a chord. 2017 was an incredible year of transformation in the network industry and 2018 is shaping up to be even bigger. The following are some thoughts on what is going on with SDN, SD-WAN and the modern cloud connected network this year.

Last year saw a massive uptick in public cloud adoption within companies and the technological disruption of many traditional, established businesses. We see clients every day overcome by regulatory compliance considerations, security concerns, stacked up operational and technical debt not to mention countless other complex IT challenges. This is forcing many to rapidly move out of traditional models of maintaining their own private IT infrastructure and applications internally to finding cloud based alternatives in order to gain efficiency needed to keep up. Organizations are more frequently than ever looking at their business problems through the lens of the cloud and are beginning to understand the promise and accompanying value, finally prepared to accept change. From where we sit, adoption is widespread and it’s across the board in every vertical and every size of customer. What we see time and again is that as attempts are made to transition to cloud services, legacy infrastructure pieces which are key to supporting cloud efforts like connectivity and security are neglected. With comprehensively managed network services like those that WAN Dynamics provides (SD-WAN, firewall, etc), we were able to assist many to get back on track to accomplish what started their cloud ambitions in the first place: Providing greater agility and value to their core business by enabling cloud adoption. We are firm believers in the cloud but in order to host services there, the infrastructure needs to be ready for it. It was a great year of discovery, education and growth along side our clients helping them solve so many of these new challenges as we go.

The pent up demand to solve problems of leveraging hybrid WAN connectivity options coupled with SD-WAN has been akin to a tidal wave. Most businesses are facing the same issues around intelligently using available connectivity in an active and dynamic capacity, addressing bandwidth quality problems over paths on the fly, seamless failover and truly uniform, holistic visibility and management of the network. Customers we meet with have heard of SD-WAN, understand the key value proposition and know that it is something requiring further exploration. As it becomes mainstream and starts to replace older WANs, we seeing a bit of backlash from the legacy vendors and service providers unable to adapt or find ways to replace shrinking revenue streams from selling and supporting legacy WANs. SD-WAN works in conjunction with a multitude of connectivity options, even L3 VPN/MPLS so for those that wish to hang onto their traditional L3VPN WAN to use with SD-WAN, they can. That said, we find most SD-WAN deployments will take advantage of the direct connectivity over Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) and Broadband and will displace MPLS connections. This will aid in better management of cloud connectivity for the organization with local Internet breakout at locations which require it.

Also of significance is the emerging trends around managing unified network policy within datacenter, cloud and WAN. Networking vendors across the board are working out “Multi-Cloud” strategies to cohesively stitch together all of these environments. Doing so will be key to scale as fragmentation of point solutions become exacerbated by maintaining many different types of infrastructure.

Let’s also not discount security’s role. With so many emerging threats coming at us daily and regulations such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), security is top of mind for many in IT so watch for the cloud and premises based security integrations with the network to mount. There will be many new offerings deployed with “service chaining” which can make tie network elements together in different places be it onsite, potentially as a virtual network function (VNF) or virtual machine running on a general purpose x86 network appliance or even tunneled to a cloud service, making things dynamic and scalable. Most security offerings are pivoting to accommodate cloud, so if a company has a centralized or already well defined security posture which they would like to maintain, vendors are making it easier to do so and easily integrate.

2018 will mark a year of growth in the networking industry that has not been seen in some time. Rapid mainstream adoption of SD-WAN and cloud connectivity options will continue and it will become a core element for network designs from here on out. Those exploring a network refresh without considering the impact of the cloud are doing themselves and their business a disservice. We are looking forward to all of the new applications and opportunities we expect to be a part of!

How Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) Provides Reliable Voice and Video Services Over the Internet

For as long as organizations have tried to make real-time services like voice or video work over Internet Protocol (IP) network pipes, there have been very basic requirements in order to make said services operate effectively. The first requirement for these sensitive applications was a dedicated, business class network line to carry this traffic. A business class circuit was paramount to reliability and uptime required for crucial services like voice or video. This type of network access has low latency characteristics which keeps the amount of time it takes to forward the voice traffic low so that conversations are not made off kilter by long delays.

Also absolutely critical to voice or video over network pipes is an additional layer over these high quality dedicated connections, something called quality of service or QoS. QoS is a suite of bandwidth prioritization and reservation techniques that give select services fast lane access to bypass lesser classifications of traffic and also reserves bandwidth preventing exhaustion of available throughput. Most commonly, QoS is used in tandem with carrier services like an IP VPN or Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) and have been assumed by many to be the only way to reliably deliver voice services for an organization. I can affirm as a network engineer for the past few decades, this has been the case for most of my career. In order for voice to perform adequately, specific care was required to specify dedicated pipes with prioritization and if you did not perform technical due diligence, you were asking for trouble in the way of poor quality, session disconnections and general voice issues.

Then something called Software Defined Wide Area Networks or SD-WAN came along. This nascent technology space is drastically changing the way we do a lot of things on the wide area network, including managing sensitive real-time protocols that typically require QoS. Read more on what SD-WAN is here.

Let’s take a look at some of the mechanisms that make SD-WAN different versus how we’ve implemented voice over traditional networks up until now. Though many of these techniques may not qualify specifically as QoS, they mimic the capabilities and allow for more reliable Internet based infrastructure to support real-time protocols. The combination of these techniques that have been used individually for decades, create a service greater than the sum of its parts. Features now considered fundamental aspects of most SD-WAN platforms are differentiators from the means we have used in the past to run network traffic over networks.

  1. Multi-Path Steering – SD-WAN can actively forward over multiple paths and is constantly measuring the performance characteristics and properties of each path available. Because it can very rapidly identify issues like high latency, packet loss and jitter, there are software mechanisms to quickly bypass these issues by utilizing an alternate, better performing path on the fly.
  2. Forward Error Correction/Packet Duplication – When issues like data loss from dropped packets arise, if there is only one path available or all paths are experiencing loss, that can be a serious issue with traditional networks with little means to remediate. SD-WAN employs features such as Forward Error Correction (FEC) or packet duplication, which becomes enabled once packet loss is identified on a path.  This technique will send duplicates of each packet in the flow over a single path or over multiple paths to have greater assurance that critical data like voice or video will make it to the destination. At the other side of the session for that voice or video stream, the first packet received will be forwarded to the destination and the duplicates packets will be dropped but if packets are dropped, the duplicated packet will be used in its place.
  3. Jitter Buffering – Voice and video quality can suffer from a network condition called “jitter” which is when the information sent over the network is spaced inconsistently leading to a variable tempo for the stream. The result is audio or video that can have gaps in timing and become impaired. SD-WAN measures the gaps between the packets and can evenly space these packets on the other side providing what is called a “jitter buffer” to realign the timing of these packets to keep the video or audio stream cadence intact.  Jitter buffering has been performed before but traditionally at the application servers and endpoints (i.e. IP phones or IP video appliances).  The unique differentiator for SD-WAN  is performing this inline on the network versus relying on the end points and application servers to supply the jitter buffering.
  4. Prioritization and Queuing over Multiple Tunneled Paths – Because SD-WAN performs it’s queuing and packet forwarding over something called an “overlay”, the forwarding decisions for information that has the highest priority and reservation of bandwidth for applications is performed at a layer above the traditional IP interface. With this, a priority “fast pass” can be given to crucial data like voice, video or other business essential apps bi-directionally and this can be done over all paths available. These overlays are typically facilitated with tunnels over top of existing infrastructure versus on the actual underlay interfaces.  This allows user defined packet queuing and service prioritization configuration overtop of service provider links.

So as you can see, there are many pieces that come together to make IP based voice over broadband and Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) now possible. Our organization has played a part in designing many SD-WAN based solutions for customers and have seen it perform in the “real world” so can attest first hand, it works.  We are beginning a new era of intelligent, self-healing networks which Software Defined Networking (SDN) applications like SD-WAN will be leveraged to usher in.  Though many of the technologies leveraged by SD-WAN are not new, the way they are put together and managed by an SDN controller is and it is this combination that makes it truly powerful. It is with great confidence that I can state, SD-WAN is not a fad and it will be a fundamental piece of how organizations will build out their connectivity moving forward.

Should your telecom provider manage your SD-WAN strategy?

As interest in software defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) grows, many traditional telecommunications providers are jumping on the bandwagon to bundle their data and voice service offerings.  I would caution those exploring their options with SD-WAN as a potential technology solution for their business to think carefully about going this route.  I’ll detail some key reasons why one may want to steer clear of bundled offerings from telecommunications carriers:

  1. A key benefit of SD-WAN is the freedom from carrier lock in and the ability to select the best access provider(s) a particular region has to offer. Bundling with your telecom provider can hamper flexibility to pick and choose the circuits you want.
  2. When bundling with circuits, pricing may prove unpredictable when the packaged offering is pulled apart.  If it’s determined later to choose another SD-WAN solution, to take circuits to other providers or to change the arrangement in any way, it could adversely affect the bottom line and there may even be penalties.
  3. Carriers will represent one, maybe two SD-WAN solutions at most with which vendor partnerships are secured.  Because there is no “one size fits all” model with any vendor currently in the SD-WAN space, Managed Services Providers (MSPs) and Value Added Resellers (VARs) have a compelling story with more choice and a better technological fit as they can represent many different best of breed solutions.
  4. A Managed Service Provider offering provides more of a customized and “boutique” solution which can be tailored to the customer needs.  Service provider offerings are typically standardized and very rigid leaving little room to get “out of the box” to provide advanced integration options.
  5. Telecommunications carriers have a vested interest in maintaining the high margins of services like MPLS.  With that, SD-WAN service offerings will likely be created to augment MPLS services, not replace them whether or not that is the right solution for the customer.

From a technology standpoint, SD-WAN will no doubt create a great deal of value, agility and savings for those running large wide area networks, no matter who it is procured from.  That said, I would advise not locking into a solution that reduces choice and the ability to realize SD-WAN’s fullest potential.