In the first post in this series we looked at the various drivers for SD-WAN adoption and the factors that are influencing decisions that companies are taking as they move to take advantage of this new technology. But how exactly does SD-WAN address some of the requirements that we highlighted previously, what are the key features and ultimately what are the main benefits that an organisation adopting SD-WAN should expect to see?
To begin with, we should acknowledge that there are many different SD-WAN solutions available in the market and while sometimes differing in terms of focus and terminology used, they are all aiming to address essentially the same demands from companies at the various stages of digital transformation.
While differences exist, there are a core set of capabilities and related benefits that leading SD-WAN solutions comprise as follows:
At the core of an SD-WAN is a centralised control or Orchestration platform which provides the configuration and management of the SD-WAN. Centralised control is key in terms of realising the SDN principle of separation of the control and data planes, effectively abstracting the underlying connectivity regardless of type (fixed or wireless), removing any related dependencies that would otherwise exist and providing the freedom and flexibility to architect a set of virtual overlay connections in the manner best suited to business needs. It is these overlay connections or tunnels that then allow the SD-WAN to provide the required flexibility and visibility needed in modern networks.
Packet Recognition and Steering
The ability to recognise traffic on a per packet basis and to then steer this traffic across the preferred underlay network connection using a set of predetermined criteria based on link performance and capacity thereby assuring application performance on a transport agnostic basis while providing for detailed visibility and reporting is a crucial feature of an SD-WAN. There are many benefits that accrue from this capability including enabling the network to react in real time to changes that may impact traffic and either redirect, balance or remediate on demand, thus ensuring that the required performance is maintained. This same capability enables the network operator to implement application-based SLAs on the network, regardless of the underlying transport, in turn ensuring active-active operation across multiple connections and maintaining availability even in the event of loss or serious degradation of service. Being able to then take further advantage of this capability and implement a set of predetermined criteria, based on specific business preferences or policies provides a comprehensive set of benefits including enhanced Quality of Service or Quality of Experience, regardless of the underlying transport, improved reliability and assured application performance, even for real time traffic, none of which was previously available without significant investment and commitment on the part of the enterprise.
Cloud Services Integration
As outlined in our earlier post, one of the main drivers for SD-WAN adoption and a part of every comprehensive digital transformation is the ability to take advantage of the cloud in its various forms. Building upon the benefits and capabilities outlined above, SD-WAN further facilitates cloud adoption in different ways including optimised routing for SaaS services such as Microsoft 365 and Salesforce (increasingly with layers of prebuilt integration readily available), secure internet breakout for higher QoE for cloud hosted apps, tightly integrated IaaS based services via API and more recently automated connectivity to cloud provider network services such as Azure Virtual WAN and AWS Transit Gateway. These toolsets and predefined integrations facilitate ease of cloud adoption across multiple platforms from all network sites and help to further ensure an optimal cloud experience for all users on the network.
Every SD-WAN discussion comprises a significant security element as customers seek to understand both the benefits and potential risks of implementing this new technology, often in a dynamic production environment. All leading SD-WAN solutions comprise significant security features, both built in and available through integrations with dedicated security providers and vendors. Key capabilities of all SD-WAN solutions are the ability to segment traffic on the network and apply policies based on profiles to ensure compliance. Service chaining to local security devices and service insertion to cloud hosted security service providers are standard on many SD-WAN platforms today. Security is no doubt one of the most important factors to be considered and is a significant driver of much of the discussion around edge and cloud networking. Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), a concept originated by Gartner and currently garnering a lot of attention, is essentially the combination of Managed SD-WAN and Security as a Service. We will address SASE in some detail in a future post.
The above is a broad summary of the primary features and related benefits of an SD-WAN solution. It should however also be noted that there are many additional features that often differentiate the various SD-WAN platforms available and these should not be dismissed when considering the best solution for a particular enterprise. Capabilities such as enhanced security, Cloud on-ramp and built in WAN Optimisation can be important depending on the profile of traffic and specific use cases associated with any network environment.
In future posts we will look at deployment challenges, Managed Vs Self-Managed SD-WAN and the role of SD-WAN in a SASE based architecture.
For more information on any of the above or SD-WAN in general, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Iricent