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Software networking supports campus network convergence

Software networking, along with intent-based capabilities, can help improve campus network visibility and authentication, while also supporting Ethernet and Wi-Fi convergence.

While advances in software-defined WAN technology have led to the adoption of software networking, campus network vendors have been rapidly improving their own software capabilities. For example, intent-based network software lends itself to increased automation and improved manageability of campus networks. It will be a critical part of IT teams' ability to evolve their campus networks -- especially when it comes to wireline and wireless integration, IoT applications and improved security.

Intent-based networking (IBN) abstracts network complexity and improves automation by eliminating manual configuration. It allows a user or administrator to send a simple request in natural language to the physical network. For example, an IT administrator can request improved quality of service for live video, and the network can respond.

Current versions of IBN can automate operations, including IP address settings and virtual LAN configurations. They can analyze network traffic to detect threats and provide clues about how to troubleshoot network issues. IBN also allows organizations to rapidly deploy and scale network resources.

State of the campus network

The campus network provides connectivity in a single geographic location to a wide range of PCs, phones, devices, video cameras, physical security devices and more. The campus network makes up one of the largest networking segments and represents approximately 40% of the Ethernet switch market. It has distinct requirements, like Power over Ethernet, apart from the data center network and branch network, which require high speeds and simplicity, respectively. The campus network typically spans carpeted environments -- e.g., office buildings -- but also includes networking in hospitals, education, oil and gas, manufacturing and other nonoffice environments.

The most significant trend in the campus network is the ongoing convergence of wireline and wireless LAN connections. The popularity of Wi-Fi, with its untethered access, is making wireless the primary means of device connectivity in the campus. But IT teams are finding it difficult to unify the management and security planes of their campus networks, which are typically managed by separate teams in large organizations.

Other challenges in the campus environment include the following:

  • the ability to discover all devices and endpoints on the network;
  • authentication of BYOD;
  • connectivity and power for IoT devices;
  • network security, as it is difficult to maintain a hard security perimeter with IoT and BYOD; and
  • provisioning and segmentation for guest Wi-Fi.

Software networking in the campus

Software networking can provide an intelligent and comprehensive view of the campus network to assist IT managers.

Software networking can provide an intelligent and comprehensive view of the campus network to assist IT managers in the challenges of discovery, authentication, segmentation and monitoring for a variety of devices.

More specifically, intent-based software enables provisioning of connectivity services with the appropriate policies and security for a group of devices -- which should be common across wired and wireless access networks. It offers the ability to segment the network according to business line, device type and application priority. For example, relatively unsecured IoT devices and guest Wi-Fi can each be on a distinct network segment. Software networking can monitor real-time traffic flows and flag suspicious traffic for further inspection and remediation.

Campus networking supplier options

Cisco remains the leading supplier of campus networking equipment with its line of Ethernet switches, Wi-Fi controllers and Meraki offerings. Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, is second in market share with its Ethernet switches and Wi-Fi offerings. Other suppliers, including Dell and Extreme Networks, offer campus networking gear, like Ethernet switches and Wi-Fi.

Cisco has introduced DNA Center as its intent-based platform to improve campus network automation, provide network segmentation and enhance visibility. Aruba offers its ClearPass policy manager to provide policy and network access control for both wireless and Ethernet connections. Independent network software suppliers, including Gluware, Forward Networks and Apstra, also offer intent-based capabilities for campus networks.

Make the move to converge Ethernet and Wi-Fi

The campus network provides fast and secure connectivity for a range of PCs and other devices. IT leaders should move rapidly to converge their Ethernet and Wi-Fi networks in the campus to improve management efficiency, streamline device discovery and ensure an integrated security approach.

Software networking, with its improved intent-based capabilities, will become a vital tool for IT to provide appropriate levels of access, performance and security to all types of devices; reduce the challenges of troubleshooting network slowdowns; and address abnormal traffic, which can signal a security breach.

This was last published in August 2018

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