As business networks have evolved, they have become increasingly complex as digital convergence requires that they support different applications, including data, voice, and other media content. In addition, separate applications like CCTV and Access Management may also run on the same infrastructure.
Network management from design and configuration onwards is no longer a simple task.
To operate networks economically and effectively, all businesses need a network that has a minimum of manual intervention in both installation and network management. A Software Defined Access Wide Area (SD-WAN) network goes a long way towards that environment.
SD-WAN is the first step on the way towards an Intent-Based network (IBN). An SD-WAN is a self-configuring, self‑learning, self-healing network. An IBN is true automation, an SD-WAN that learns, adapts and evolves by itself. IBN is only in the later stages of development, and Cisco is working closely with Universities and Research Centres to bring it to commercial reality.
Simply put, Software Defined Access splits the network into two levels or planes – the physical level of equipment, and the software level which sits over the physical level and defines what the network looks like and how it operates. In essence, the network configures itself as the equipment is added to it.
That then gives the opportunity to define and manage the network from a central point using software rather than configuring individual bits of equipment. This makes deployment and management of the network simpler and less resource intensive. It is, therefore, cheaper and more effective.
It is a new technology and major IT companies, including Cisco, are fully embracing it, seeing it as a means of easily introducing new technologies into an existing environment. An ideal environment for coalescing cabled and WiFi environments and introducing the Internet of Things and BYOD.
Here are five ways in which SD-WAN simplifies network management:
In the past, installing a switch required an extensive period of desktop configuration. Ports were individually configured with VLANs in particular, routing tables set up, switch security needed to be implemented and a remote management capability installed. This all took time, and if an emergency switch replacement was needed, prolonged downtime was inevitable.
In an SD-WAN, all that is needed is to physically install the switch. The SD-WAN software takes care of all the configuring needs.
As indicated above, the switch configuration happens automatically. In the broader sense of the larger network, routing and traffic management is automatically configured. A good current example is WiFi Mesh network which automatically creates and adjust routing paths as new mesh nodes are added, moved or removed.
This significantly reduces the amount of manual intervention needed in network configuration and management.
Most large network implementations include a Network Control Centre. This can either be a video wall or a single desktop PC showing a diagrammatic view of the corporate network. If the network was reconfigured, the diagram might need to be reconfigured.
It also requires naming conventions for network links and devices. In a Spine and Leaf environment, for example, this can be time-consuming and tedious.
In an SD-WAN this happens automatically.
Again in the past, a physical network failure of either a switch or network cabling took time to locate and rectify. Notification might be as simple as the colour of a network link changing on the network status screen.
If an extended period of downtime was necessary, network managers spent time creating and implementing alternate routes to provide service to affected areas.
With an SD-WAN, this process is automatic. We can see it in operation today in WiFi Mesh networks.
The range and capabilities of networks are continually changing. The impact of the Internet of Things and other network developments are presenting network designers and managers with new challenges.
Further network architectures like Fog Computing increase those challenges.
The ability of SD-WAN to remove a large part of the design and maintenance overhead associated with networks goes a long way to allowing new technologies and architectures to be more easily incorporated in future environments.
SD-WAN clearly provides distinct assistance to network management, but it must be realised that it is not the full thing yet. Intent-Based Networks are yet to come.