Cloud WAN and SD-WAN: The Cloud Connection Struggle

Some interesting data came out of the Cisco Live 2017 event in Las Vegas this week. It suggests that enterprise networking executives are not worried about their own infrastructure as much as what’s happening outside the data center.

In a survey of conference attendees conducted by network performance platform developer Kentix, more than a third identified cloud computing as the greatest contributor to network complexity, with developments like the Internet of Things (IoT), software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) following by a wide margin. At the same time, most respondents say they are not ready for technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to help with network management. Instead, they are focusing on basic operational visibility, integrating management systems and building stronger security.

Indeed, many enterprises have found that while their compute, storage and application sets are ready for the cloud, wide area connectivity is still lacking, says Riverbed’s Milind Bhise. This will become particularly troublesome as organizations branch into hybrid, multi-cloud architectures which will be routinely expected to shuttle data back and forth among providers and the private cloud for redundancy, utilization and other reasons. This is why the WAN needs to become as software-defined as the LAN, giving organizations the ability to configure their long-haul connectivity dynamically with the same ease as data center and campus networks.

But simply deploying a generic SD-WAN platform might not be enough, particularly as cloud infrastructure scales in both size and complexity, says Aviatrix Systems CEO Steven Mih. To optimize connectivity specifically for the cloud, the network must be fully automated to the point where even non-technical users can set up their own connections in minutes. At the same time it must provide end-to-end security and centralized visibility – all delivered by a software-only framework that supports standard development tools and all major cloud platforms.

That’s a tall order but – and this is just a hunch – it is likely that vendors like Aviatrix and Riverbed are ready to take up the challenge. But it is also likely that cloud connectivity will vary according to the individual use case. This is something that Viptela Inc. is looking to address with its Cloud onramp platform. The system is designed to support software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) running on SD-WAN, cloud networking, network as a service and AppUX platforms, providing automatic instantiation of virtual instances from the company’s vEdge router. In this way, even branch office users gain direct access to the cloud rather than having to go through a central data center, while multiple VPNs can still be managed centrally on top of a single fabric.

It isn’t all that surprising that networking is the last element of the data stack to embrace the cloud paradigm. After all, it’s much easier to swap out servers or add a new computing platform than it is to rework the connectivity across thousands of devices – particularly when dealing with wide area infrastructure.

But time is not on the enterprise’s side when it comes to this particular upgrade. Organizations will need to virtualize, and automate, their entire networking stacks in short order if they hope to remain relevant in an increasingly digitized economy.

The tools to build these kinds of advanced networks are already in place, so the longer it takes to replace legacy infrastructure, the greater chance that business will be lost to start-ups that can build 21st century connectivity from scratch.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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