In the SDN WAN: Network programmability, provisioning and high availability

Lee Doyle

Technology trends, such as cloud computing, SaaS and BYOD have dramatically changed the requirements for the enterprise WAN. But emerging SDN technologies enable WANs to address these challenges with automated network provisioning, links between data centers and secure remote access to files and applications.

Even before challenges arose from BYOD and the cloud, WAN connectivity was challenging for IT professionals. High-speed WAN links are expensive and difficult to manage.

But it's even more difficult to deliver highly reliable secure WAN links with low latency now that IT must manage applications and data that reside on a combination of public and private cloud data centers and are accessed remotely by a range of devices.

SDN WAN: Prioritization and a new level of QoS

SDN technologies allow IT to prioritize key applications and assign specific quality of service (QoS) and latency parameters. New levels of flexibility, network programmability and manageability can help to address the following key WAN requirements:

  • Automated provisioning of new sites and new connections
  • Ability to dynamically prioritize traffic types
  • Data transfers between remote data centers
  • Improved security (e.g., encryption) of WAN links
  • The ability to program applications to the WAN via open APIs
  • Real-time traffic monitoring
  • Flexible VPN access, improving secure remote access for a distributed workforce

SDN WAN applications

One interesting SDN WAN application is the ability to offer continuous availability between remote data centers. Many IT managers would like to move to an active-active data center model, where the network can synchronize compute and storage resources. The WAN is critical to ensure organizations can immediately migrate key applications to a geographically separate data center in the event of a failure (e.g., nature disaster) at one data center. In order for IT to achieve continuous availability with the active-active data center model, the SDN WAN can provide the following capabilities:

SDN WAN challenges

Some of the challenges of WAN SDN include the difficulty of linking SDN control across dissimilar environments, multiple protocol types and limits of public networks (e.g., the Internet). SDN technologies are new and lack the maturity of proven WAN products. What's more, SDN standards are still evolving and customers need to ensure interoperability with their existing LAN and WAN.

A wide range of small suppliers are delivering new, innovative WAN solutions, including Adara, Anuta, Embrane, Glue, Pertino, Silver Peak, Talari and Vello. Established WAN vendors, such as Cisco, Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent, are also adding SDN capabilities to their product lines.

SDN is providing new network capabilities to enable IT professionals prioritize critical traffic, link active-active data centers, improve automation and monitoring, and increase security. IT professionals should evaluate SDN offerings for their ability to improve their unique WAN environments.

About the author: Lee Doyle is principal analyst at Doyle Research. Doyle Research provides targeted analysis on the evolution of intelligent networks: SDN, NFV, OPEX and COTS. Lee Doyle has over 28 years' experience analyzing the IT, network and telecom markets. For more information please see doyle-research.com, email him at ldoyle@doyle-research.com and follow him on Twitter @leedoyle_dc.

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