IDC Directions 2018 Insight: Intelligent Network Edge, SD-WANs & SD-Branch

Introduction:

IDC Directions is the market research firm’s annual conference, which always delivers an informative and actionable overview of the issues shaping the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets.  IDC speakers look at the current state of various markets, cutting edge trends and future IT developments that are likely to result in transformation and change.

This year’s event only had one session on networking which we cover in detail in this article. A total event summary is beyond the scope of the IEEE ComSoc techblog.

Abstract:

As the edge plays host to a growing array of new applications, the focus ultimately turns to edge networking, which must deliver the requisite connectivity, bandwidth, low-latency, and network services for both enterprise and service provider deployments. Indeed, as IoT and other edge services proliferate, a one-size-fits-all approach to edge networking and network security will not suffice. In this session, Brad Casemore of IDC examined the diversity of network requirements and solutions at the edge, covering physical, virtual, and network-as-a-service (NaaS) use cases and application scenarios.

Presentation Highlights:

According to IDC, the “Intelligent Edge” includes both the IT Edge (IT activities performed outside the data center, but within purview of IT) and the OT/Operations Technology Edge (embedded technologies that do not directly generate data for enterprise use, and are outside the direct purview of IT).

That’s in contrast to the “Core,” which is the “IT Data Center” — an information aggregation facility that is located on the firm’s own physical premises, off-premises in a collocation facility, or off-premises at a virtual location such as a public cloud.

Networking at the Intelligent Edge involves three types of sub-networks:

▪ Enterprise Cloud IT Edge (branch networking for the cloud)

▪ Enterprise Branch IT Edge (the evolution of networking at branch offices/remote sites)

▪ IoT Edge (networking to, from, and at the IoT/OT Edge)

Networking provides essential connectivity and bandwidth, but it also provides valuable network and security services that accelerate and optimize application and service performance at the edge.  Brad said that significant innovation is occurring in edge networking which are enabling better business outcomes at the intelligent edge.  Some examples of innovation are:

• Software Defined Networks (SDN)/Intent-based

• Overlay networks (such as SD-WANs)

• Network Virtualization (NV)/Network Function Virtualization (NFV)

• Network security (software-defined perimeter)

As a result, the intelligent edge network is significantly contributing to automated network intelligence, in addition to providing wireless and wireline connectivity services.

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Enterprise IT is being challenged to provide access to public and private clouds while also maintaining secure and effective communications with regional offices and headquarters (usually through an IP-MPLS VPN).

Enterprise WANs are not effective for Cloud access, because they lack agility, flexibility, and efficiency.

These two issues are depicted in the following two IDC figures:

 

As a result, a different Application Centric WAN architecture is needed.  Brad proposed SD-WANs for this purpose, despite the reality there is no standard definition or functionality for SD-WAN and no standards for multi-vendor inter-operability or inter-SD-WAN connections (e.g. UNI or NNI, respectively).  SD-WAN is an overlay network that provides user control via the Application layer, rather than via a “Northbound” API to/from the Control plane (as in conventional SDN).

The use cases for SD-WAN have been well established, including improving application performance by enabling use of multiple WAN links, simplifying WAN architecture, reducing reliance on MPLS, and improving SaaS performance by automatically steering traffic based on application policy instead of back hauling all traffic to the data center.

IDC believes the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a huge impact on networking infrastructure, especially at the edge where low latency/ real time control of IoT devices will be needed.

Casemore said that SD-WANs will help companies overcome issues associated with a traditional enterprise WAN, which wasn’t built for cloud and lacks operational efficiently.

In a real world example of SD-WANs for a medical device supplier, Brad noted the goals were:

• Dynamic access to all available bandwidth (underlays)
• Move away from using relatively expensive MPLS circuits for voice traffic
• Prioritize business-critical cloud apps ahead of nonproduction apps/traffic
• Need for greater visibility –quickly remediate issues and respond to evolving application/service needs

Benefits cited were the following:
• Improved resilience
• Better application performance and availability
• Cost-effective bandwidth utilization
• Better visibility (faster troubleshooting/remediation and proactive planning)
• IT department and network team now contributing to the business of making and shipping products quickly

IDC sees SD-WAN evolving to incorporate more intent based networking and intelligent automation, with business intent consistently applied to application delivery and performance, he said.

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Editor’s Note: Intent-based networking is a hot buzzword in the industry right now, generally describing technology that uses automation and machine learning to implement business policy with little or no human intervention.  Many believe that intelligent automation will be how business intent is applied to application delivery and network performance across the WAN.

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Brad also suggested the following additional attributes for future SD-WANs
▪ Machine Learning and AI – SD-WAN must become cognitive, proactive, and ultimately self-driving, continuously adapting to changing conditions
▪ Pervasive Security – Applications automatically steered over appropriate links and to appropriate security devices.   Secure segmentation provided on a per -application basis.
▪ Stepping stone toward SD-branch

“This is all moving us toward the software-defined (SD)-branch.  SD-WAN serves as the precursor and serves as the essential conduit to SD-branch and network as a service (NaaS) at the edge,” Casemore said.

In the SD-branch, routing, firewall, and WAN optimization are provided as virtual functions in a cloud-like NaaS model, replacing expensive hardware. Management is automated and services can be easily adjusted as business needs change, Casemore said.

IDC believes telcos will use SD-branch to provide virtual CPE and unversal CPE services as per this slide from IDC:

 

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Sidebar on SD-branch from a recent Network World article:

The branch network is a critical piece of the IT infrastructure for most distributed organizations.  The branch network is responsible for providing reliable, high quality communications to and from remote locations. It must be secure, easy to deploy, able to be managed centrally and cost effective.  Requirements for branch networks continue to evolve with needs for increased bandwidth, quality of service, security and support for IoT.

SDN and network virtualization technologies have matured to the point where they can deliver significant benefits for branch networks.  For example, SD-WAN technology is rapidly being deployed to improve the quality of application delivery and reducing operational complexity.  SD-WAN suppliers are rapidly consolidating branch network functions and have reduced (or eliminated) the need for branch routers and WAN optimization.

The most compelling argument for SD-Branch is operational agility. IT organizations can rapidly deploy and provision a network branch-in-a-box solution for new locations.  Via a centralized management console, they can control and adjust all branch network and security functions.

Reducing or eliminating the need for trained IT personnel to visit remote branch locations results in significant cost and time savings. SD-Branch also promises to reduce hardware costs by deploying software on consolidated hardware as compared to many separate appliances.

Other SD-Branch benefits include:

  • Decreased cost of support and maintenance contracts because fewer vendors will be involved.
  • The ability to right-size hardware requirements for each branch thanks to software virtualization.
  • A smaller hardware footprint, which is ideal for space-constrained branches.
  • Network performance scalability. As network requirements change, the performance of any function can be tuned up or down by changing processor allocation or adding hardware resources.
  • Lower power consumption because one power-efficient platform replaces many appliances.

Over time the SD-Branch will be easier to deploy, less complex to manage, and more responsive to changing requirements at the branch.  The cost benefits in CAPEX and OPEX could be significant as the technology matures.

The broader concept of SD-Branch is still in its early stages.  During 2018, we will see a number of suppliers introduce their SD-Branch solutions.  These initial SD-Branch implementations will primarily be single-vendor and may lack state-of-the-art technology in some applications.

IT leaders should carefully evaluate the benefits of the SD-Branch architecture.   Migration to SD-Branch will likely require significant changes to the existing branch network and may require a forklift upgrade.  SD-Branch suppliers should be evaluated on their current and near-future technology, technology partnerships (e.g. security), and deployment options (do it yourself, channel partners, and managed solutions).

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Brad believes that SD-branch is inevitable.  He provided the following rationale for that:

▪SD-Branch will be enabled by SD-WAN overlays
▪ SD-WAN will be integral component of SD-Branch, but latter will include other
virtualized (perhaps containerized) network/security services
▪ Automated provisioning, management, and orchestration results in SD-Branch that
yields dynamic network as a service (NaaS)
• Network and security services added or modified as needed
• Results in CapEx savings (separate hardware appliances no longer need for each network
function)
• Network operating costs are lower, minimized need for branch IT
• Provisioning is far more agile, resulting in faster time to revenue/business outcome
▪ It’s not enough to have virtual network appliances
• Virtual appliances are still appliances architecturally
• SD-Branch gets us to cloud-like NaaS at the branch/remote office

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IDC Prediction: Edge IT goes mainstream in 2022, displacing 80% of existing edge appliances.

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IDC’s Essential Guidance for Users:

  • Consider the role and value of the network not just in terms of connectivity, but in how it can contribute to intelligence at the edge.
  • Look for edge-networking solutions that abstract management complexity, provide application-centric automation, speed provisioning, and ensure application availability and security.
  • Ensure your intelligent-edge network evolves to a NaaS model, in which virtualized network and security services are dynamically provisioned as needed. The edge network must be as agile as the apps/services it supports.

IDC’s Essential Guidance for Suppliers:

  • Continually enhanced intelligent network automation and orchestration to reduce operational complexity and provide network agility.
  • Leverage ML/AI as means to the end goal of providing increasingly actionable visibility that loops back to feed intent/policy and allows for proactive remediation.
  • Provide for true NaaS at the intelligent edge, incorporating a full range of virtualized network and network-security services (through ecosystem partnerships).

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “IDC Directions 2018 Insight: Intelligent Network Edge, SD-WANs & SD-Branch

  1. From Brad Casemore via email:

    Reading your article, I see that you’ve provided an accurate, comprehensive summary of the proceedings. You and I spoke briefly about how SD-WAN sets a precedent and breaks with the venerable networking tradition of following prescribed standards. I suspect we’ll see more of this in networking, as network value migrates to software and as software practices and developer models grow increasingly prevalent in the networking industry.

    If you’d like to follow up further, I welcome the correspondence.

    Best Regards,
    Brad

  2. Cloud adoption and digital transformation is driving SD-WAN to replace the traditional WAN. From this transformation, cloud-based applications and resources are changing not only how we interact with information, but how the branch services the user. First, for cloud-based apps accessed from the branch, there is a need to improve user experience and increase control and security. And second, the rise of new application services will drive the demand for different approaches to segmentation and security. In addition to transforming the branch or WAN, software-defined security is a catalyst that both addresses these emerging challenges and naturally evolves into SD-Branch.
    The SD-Branch is an architectural approach that combines the WAN and the branch into a simplified network, security, and WAN architecture by consolidating multiple functions into a single software-based IP services platform. This approach virtualizes all or most branch connectivity, networking, and security functions and centrally manages them. Software-defining the branch enables enterprises and service providers to go beyond SD-WAN based connectivity and software-define the full stack of services at the branch. The SD-Branch takes advantage of design components such as virtual customer premises equipment (vCPE) to enable the hosting of third-party virtualized network functions (VNFs) — thus furthering the ability to software-define the entire stack of branch services and leverage network functions virtualization (NFV) operational constructs and benefits.

    To achieve the transition from an SD-WAN to an SD-Branch requires a range of IP services that deliver highly flexible, scalable, and secure branch and WAN architectures. This means the virtualization and integration of all layers in the branch – the underlay, the overlay, and advanced network and security services – with a centralized management and control framework. The SD-Branch includes the following components:

    A virtualized IP services platform to provide cloud-like elasticity, service chaining, and programmability using cost-effective deployment models.;
    A broad set of VNFs to deliver the robust networking and security IP services necessary in an SD-Branch; and
    A centralized management and visibility framework to provide centralized control, management, analytics, and workflow management service akin to a cloud-like service.
    https://www.sdxcentral.com/articles/contributed/evolution-sd-wan-sd-branch/2017/07/

  3. IDC Forecasts SD-WAN Market to Reach $8 Billion in 2021 As Enterprise Branch Network Requirements Accelerate
    The most significant driver of SD-WAN growth over the next five years will be digital transformation (DX) in which enterprises deploy 3rd Platform technologies, including cloud, big data and analytics, mobility, and social business, to unlock new sources of innovation and creativity that enhance customer experiences and improve financial performance. DX generally increases network workloads and elevates the network’s end-to-end importance to business operations.

    Another factor driving the growth of SD-WAN is the continued rise of public cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. The increase in SaaS adoption for business applications throughout the enterprise disrupts the prominence of MPLS-based WAN connectivity to the branch. SD-WAN is increasingly leveraged to provide dynamic connectivity optimization and path selection in a policy-driven, centrally manageable distributed network architecture.

    Finally, the growth in SD-WAN will benefit from the broader acceptance, and adoption, of software-defined networking (SDN) throughout the enterprise. As virtualization, cloud management, and SDN continue to gain traction throughout enterprise networks, SD-WAN will benefit from this paradigm shift and receive increasing consideration.

    “SD-WAN is not a solution in search of a problem,” said Rohit Mehra, vice president, Network Infrastructure at IDC. “Traditional WANs were not architected for the cloud and are also poorly suited to the security requirements associated with distributed and cloud-based applications. And, while hybrid WAN emerged to meet some of these next-generation connectivity challenges, SD-WAN builds on hybrid WAN to offer a more complete solution.”

    SD-WAN leverages hybrid WAN, but includes a centralized, application-based policy controller; analytics for application and network visibility; a secure software overlay that abstracts the underlying networks; and an optional SD-WAN forwarder (routing capability). Together these technologies provide intelligent path selection across WAN links, based on the application policies defined on the controller.

    The benefits of SD-WAN include cost-effective delivery of business applications, meeting the evolving operational requirements of the modern branch/remote site, optimizing software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud-based services such as UC&C, and improving branch-IT efficiency through automation. These benefits have resonated across the spectrum of enterprise IT and service providers alike, ensuring a broad-based uptake for this new paradigm in WAN architectures.

    https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS42925117

  4. Multiple vendors (mostly start-ups) are competing in the rapidly growing SD-WAN market. Although the technology has been commercially available for only a few years, research firm IDC estimates global SD-WAN infrastructure and services revenues will see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 69.6% and reach $8.05 billion in 2021. As various startups seemingly jump on board the SD-WAN bandwagon every day, it can be difficult to choose a provider.
    Here are a few successful SD-WAN vendors:
    -Aryaka Networks
    -Viptela -acquired by Cisco in 2017
    -VeloCloud- acquired by VMWare in 2017
    -Versa Networks
    -Citrix Netscaler
    https://www.rcrwireless.com/20180207/sd-wan-vendors-to-watch-out-for-in-2018-tag27-tag99

  5. AT&T gave impetus to the open hardware movement today (March 27, 2018) by announcing it plans to install 60,000 white-box routers in its cell towers over a period of several years.

    From AT&T’s press release (see 1st reference below):
    “We’re transitioning from the traditional, proprietary routers that sit inside these structures to new hardware that’s built around open standards and can be quickly upgraded via software. We expect to roll out over 60,000 of these white box routers over the next several years across the U.S.”

    Andre Fuetsch of AT&T Labs called it a “radical realignment of the traditional service provider model,” saying the software-powered devices would free AT&T from being dependent on proprietary hardware from traditional vendors in deploying 5G services.

    “We’re no longer constrained by the capabilities of proprietary silicon and feature roadmaps of traditional vendors. We’re writing open hardware specifications for these machines, and developing the open source software that powers these boxes. This means faster hardware upgrades, since anyone can build to these specs. And software upgrades that move at internet speed. We’re doing this all while keeping costs low so we can focus on expanding our nationwide mobile 5G footprint for our customers as quickly as possible.”

    These machines will use open hardware designs so anyone can build to AT&T’s specifications.

    References:

    http://about.att.com/story/att_deploying_white_box_hardware_in_cell_towers.html

    https://www.fiercewireless.com/tech/at-t-kicks-off-major-white-box-router-deployment

    https://www.sdxcentral.com/articles/news/att-plans-60000-dnos-powered-white-boxes-to-support-5g/2018/03/?c_action=home_slider

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