Now that network virtualization (NV) vendors have their eye on the branch office, it’s inevitable that there is some conflict with providers of software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs) and providers of networking gear at the network edge. The question right now is to what degree any one of these camps will supplant the others or whether industry simply enters a new phase of “coopetition” at the network edge.
To make matters even more fuzzy, it’s not even clear how these technologies will actually be deployed. Traditionally, most IT organizations have opted to deploy and manage networks themselves. But it’s also becoming apparent that SDN technologies are making it more economically feasible to treat the edge of the network as part of a managed service.
SD-WAN as a Service
In the managed service space, service provider Masergy recently partnered with Silver Peak to add managed SD-WAN services to the Masergy portfolio. The basic idea is that IT organizations are looking to vendors to provide them with a white-glove service for deploying and managing SD-WANs at the network edge. The issue that arises there is to what degree an IT organization wants to rely on a vendor to manage a particular piece of hardware, as opposed to going with a more neutral managed service provider (MSP). At the same time, providers of SD-WANs – such as Aryaka, CloudGenix, Silver Peak, Viptela, VeloCloud, and Versa – are partnering with service providers to roll out SD-WAN as a service.
That doesn’t mean incumbent network vendors are ignoring the trend. Major networking vendors such as Cisco and VMware have already made clear their ambitions to extend network virtualization out to the branch office. WAN optimization player Riverbed Technology has new plans for managing the remote office. Riverbed is making use of VMware virtual machine software in the data center to craft a Riverbed SteelFusion platform. It will enable IT services to be pushed out to a remote office from a local data center or a public cloud without requiring dedicated IT server infrastructure to be locally installed.
As part of that strategy, Riverbed this month moved to closely couple its SD-WAN for those remote offices to the Riverbed SteelFusion platform – thereby enabling IT services to be managed alongside WAN connections via a common SteelCentral management platform. That approach not only flattens the network architecture across the enterprise, but it eliminates the need to backhaul remote branch traffic to a data center to access cloud services such as Microsoft Office 365.
The Wireless Network Edge
Providers of wireless networks such as Aerohive Networks are promoting the concept of software-defined LANs deployed in multiple offices that can all be managed remotely via the cloud. Without a local SD-WAN in place, all local remote office network traffic would have to be backhauled to a central data center. But there’s no reason providers of SD-LANs and SD-WANs might not be able to integrate with one another’s platforms to eliminate that requirement.
In general, providers of SD-WANs contend that vendors aiming to push various types of networking platforms out to the branch office are underestimating the complexities associated with trying to manage multiple types of WAN connections. Thus many of them are betting that interoperability partnerships between providers of SD-WANs and other networking vendors will soon become a lot more common. The challenge that many of the major incumbent networking vendors face today is that SD-WANs essentially replace the need for routers at the edge of the network. Obviously, router manufacturers like Cisco and Juniper Networks would rather see customers migrate to their own SD-WAN offerings than to those of what is now a host of new competitors.
Regardless of the outcome, the good news is there’s now more focus than ever on the software-defined edge of the network. The challenge facing IT organizations now is, not so much determining why software-defined networking at the edge is important to them, but rather how best to go about achieving it, based on their own inevitably unique requirements.