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ONUG conference: SD-WAN and automation continue to grow

The 2017 ONUG conference focused on new uses for SD-WAN, the development of standards and offered a sneak peek into emerging technologies, like containerization and automation.

NEW YORK -- The technology showcase floor at this fall's ONUG conference teemed with the typical vendors displaying various products and technologies. But a significant number of these suppliers could be lumped into a single, albeit continually shifting, category: software-defined WAN.

By now, SD-WAN's benefits are well-understood. Among other advantages, the technology can simplify the WAN and streamline traffic management. It also gives enterprises the ability to transition away from more expensive connectivity links, like MPLS -- or to add broadband internet in conjunction with existing MPLS services. As a result, SD-WAN deployments continue to blossom, with IDC predicting the market will eclipse $8 billion in sales by 2021.

Yet, as SD-WAN continues to mature, customers are now looking for new ways to exploit the technology. One concept gaining traction: network infrastructure consolidation. This change pushes SD-WAN from a sole "solution" to a framework supporting additional functions in a broader network package. Versa Networks, for example, offers its FlexVNF platform that inserts multiple functions, like SD-WAN, routing and security, into the broader platform. FatPipe Networks also launched a virtual network functions platform that integrates SD-WAN functionality earlier this month.

The ONUG conference also featured a session dedicated to its SD-WAN working group, the Open SD-WAN Exchange (OSE). Currently, the group is developing an interworking architecture framework that will contain reference points, or open APIs, to enable standardization across domain orchestrators. The group settled on RESTful architecture with JSON support, according to OSE group member Steve Wood, principal engineer for enterprise architecture and SD-WAN at Cisco.

Wood said the goal, for now, is not to get individual SD-WAN devices to talk with each other, but to automate and standardize the gateway between different domain orchestrators. The working group also hopes to standardize APIs that will enable application identification.

The OSE group has yet to release any APIs, however, and has only a handful of enterprises working with it to develop the standard interfaces.

Move away from just networking

Earlier this year, ONUG announced its rebranding to move the group away from being solely focused on computer networking. This transition was evident from the range of sessions throughout the ONUG conference -- from discussions dedicated to containers and container orchestration to hybrid cloud and machine learning.

One session focused on automated container orchestration, especially related to hybrid cloud environments. Panelists from GE, Bank of America, Intuit and Citigroup discussed their companies' current use of containers -- if any -- and hesitations they had with the still-emerging technology.

Bruce Pinsky, a distinguished engineer at Intuit, based in Mountain View, Calif., agreed containers are the next level of virtualization, but said more progress is necessary. Harmen Van der Linde, global head of Citi Management Tools at New York-based Citigroup, had similar concerns, among which was the question of how vendors will deal with patching containers on a large scale.

Process trumps the product

The cloud isn't always easy. As Maria Azúa, senior vice president of distributed hosting at Fidelity, based in Boston, spoke those words during her ONUG presentation, a few audience members laughed in agreement.

"Everybody thinks the cloud is the best thing since sliced bread; everybody thinks it's really easy. But it's not that easy," she said.

Automation is the only way to standardization.
Maria Azúasenior vice president of distributed hosting at Fidelity

For Azúa, an important consideration when moving to the cloud is to know where the data goes. This entails creating a digital signature for the data and ensuring if the signature is compromised, you're in possession of the key and can kill the data.

"Don't patch anything in the cloud," she said. "Everything is immutable."

Despite data management and security challenges, Azúa said companies will continue to shift their workloads to the cloud. By 2020, she predicted 85% of workloads will be in hybrid cloud environments, with the top five cloud providers controlling about 75% of those services.

By 2025, she estimated cloud usage will be at 53%, surpassing enterprise reliance on legacy infrastructure.

Automation is also making inroads, Azúa said, especially as standardization becomes more important.

"Automation is the only way to standardization," she said. "You can buy any tools you want, but you'll never get there [standardization] if you don't automate, because the human being is very bad at repeating tasks."

Companies can potentially bypass these errors with automation. And to Azúa, this automation means more than getting a computer to automate a single task. She defined automation as a standardized declarative process for multiple workflows. These processes then become more important than the products themselves.

"More importantly, you need to understand that your processes trump any product that you have," she said. "Process trumps product."

Next Steps

Capital One and GE move to hybrid WAN

How containers could benefit networking

Get started with SD-WAN using this primer

Dig Deeper on SDN architecture

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