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What is SD-WAN?
These days people & businesses expect access to information anytime, anywhere from any place. Cloud computing & the increase use of mobile devices has made this possible but the networks that keep everything connected are growing and becoming increasingly complex, especially from a management perspective.
There are two types of networks – a LAN (Local area network) and a WAN (Wide area network). LANs connect the devices inside of your office together while WANS connect your office to others around the world. Without the WAN it would be like not having internet access.
Recently a new technology has emerged called SD-WAN. It’s the next generation of WAN’s and an important step in the evolution of networking. The SD in SD-WAN stands for software defined. While SD is not an entirely new concept it has become an important focus especially in relation to infrastructure and networking. It really boils down to using software to make IT work smarter, faster & at a lower cost. SD-WAN is a better way to build and manage long distance networks, across multiple locations.
Traditional WANs are made up of tens hundreds or thousands of routers that talk to each other over long distances. Within each router there is a data plane and a control plane. The data plane holds the information that is being sent or received – the data. The control plane determines where that data should go. Sounds simple enough, however someone needs to programme the control plane with rules on how to handle network traffic on the data plane. This is typically done by entering a series of commands into each routers CLI (command line interface). This can be a very manual, time consuming and error prone process.
Take for example a large retail store with 500 locations worldwide. It needs to deploy a new video app. Lets assume each store location has a router that requires 10 commands to implement the correct configurations. With 500 sites that’s 5000 commands. If each one takes 30 seconds that’s a total of 41.7 hours or a working week for many of us and that’s just for a single application!
The CLI can also be very error prone so if you make just one mistake at one site it’s also time-consuming finding & fixing it.
Networks pros have tried to overcome these problems by developing programming tools and script to automate changes. However, theses tools and procedures add more layers of complexity as well as even more CLI commands with more variables that could compound existing problems. With SD that process is hugely simplified for starters parts of the control plane are centralised. That way changes to the control plane can be grouped & managed simultaneously across the entire WAN using business defined rules and from a central management portal.
This added simplicity makes it easier to take advantage of broadband internet connections instead of relying on expensive private MPLS networks.
The main benefits of SD-WAN allow your business to easily:
- Improve connectivity across all sites
- Increase your network flexibility and agility
- Improve multiple application performance
- Reduce IT costs
- Increase IT team’s productivity and availability
- Reduce physical infrastructure
SD-WAN vs MPLS
Enterprises today are growing at a rapid pace thanks to the adoption of cloud technology, SaaS & the ever growing need to access information from anywhere at any time. This is often especially important for businesses who operate globally or online.
In order to understand SD-WAN better we need to look at the traditional networks and some of the challenges it poses. If you look at the internet it has been expanded vastly to include all the SaaS apps such as skype, salesforce, office 365 etc. There are also enterprises who host their own services infrastructure as a service on apps like AWS and Azure. If we look at the head office or datacentre many companies will also have internet applications that are hosted here too. In a traditional network you have multiple technologies acting in their own ways such as router, firewall, switches etc. Each one of these will usually have their own control plane and their own data plane. Control plane typically makes decisions like QoS and routing decisions. However, data plane is the part of the network that carries the application and data.
In many enterprises who have multi sites each site simply can’t have all the separate applications and security solutions, so they back haul all the internet traffic over an MPLS link to the head office or data centre.
Some of the challenges with traditional MPLS include:
- Lack of visibility into cloud and P2P applications for QoS
- Lacks application aware load balancing and intelligent path aware dynamic failover
- No centralised zero touch provisioning and automation among all sites/offices
- High cost of MPLS links and backhauled internet traffic
SD networking offers solutions to these challenges by decoupling the Control plane and Data plane so it becomes cloud-based management. This enables it all to be managed and application aware load balancing to be implemented which means you can prioritise apps or data across the entire business from one place. Because its application aware you can utilise your businesses different internet services based on priority – reducing your cost and providing a higher quality of service.
An SD-WAN service connects business locations through multiple network providers across any distance. Regardless of the type of service, weather its MPLS, Leased Line, Broadband or a 4g connection an SD-WAN can aggregate them all to create a single, seamless connection that provides greater control.
While SD-WAN has clear benefits, many businesses are proceeding with caution, and with good reason! Your business & your employees need to be prepared for SD-WAN and only an experienced network provider should guide you through that process. Transitioning to a network that uses both physical and virtualised technologies requires specialised knowledge. Understanding what your business wants and needs using a hybrid network like this is critically important.
MPLS does offer 99% uptime, is completely secure and is usually much more expensive than SD-WAN. SD-WANs don’t usually offer SLA guarantees and are generally much cheaper to install with less manhours required from your IT department.
VPLS – What is it?
VPLS stands for Virtual Private LAN service. It’s a layer 2 any to any WAN technology used to extend the LAN across any distance worldwide. The typical users of VPLS are enterprise companies and usually fall into 2 main categories:
- Where an organisation is looking to manage their own WAN in this respect, they can procure the layer 2 WAN from the provider and implement their own layer 3 routing whilst maintaining some of the key aspects of MPLS VPN such as QoS & Service level guarantees for latency, jitter and uptime.
- Private Cloud Use. I’m sure everyone by now is aware of how much cloud use for businesses has increased in recent years. Many enterprise companies will deploy an any to any private cloud network of datacentres and then add further resources and clusters to those. Those resources all appear on the same LAN so its transparent to the user.
Unlike traditional wide-area network connectivity or IP-based VPN’s , a VPLS can be used to transport non-IP traffic. A VPLS can provide point-to-point, multipoint services and any-to-any capabilities.
A VPLS uses MPLS to create the appearance of a VPN at each site location.
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