In this article I will try to explain the basics of WAN Virtualization technology (sometimes referred as SD – WAN too), and how much it is relevant to Turkish Enterprises, considering existing architectures, and offerings from Service Providers.
Although IP Networking is an area that we see myriad of changes, new applications, architectures etc…; somethings surprisingly stay fairly the same. We still use almost same IGP and BGP protocols, generally a hub and spoke network, with similar load balancing, QoS, and backup mechanisms. We all want plenty of bandwidth, stable and reliable, at reasonable price, with specific treatment to specific traffic such as multimedia and mission critical data. But can we get it? Probably right answer is yes, but not all together. Plenty of bandwidth, with a reliable link quality, strong SLAs, low delay and jitter won’t come cheap.
Yes, now there are cheap bandwidth alternatives. I have 16 Mbps at home, and I can watch HD movies perfectly, while downloading large files. 100 Mbps, or even 1 Gbps offerings at a very very reasonable prices are also becoming widespread. But when you look at most of enterprise branches you will see that they have just a couple of Mbps major WAN link, with a DSL and/or 3G backup. Some enterprises do use the DSL link actively by a policy based routing however this is not an easily managed method, nor flexible. Basically DSL, cable, or other cheaper BW alternatives are not reliable enough, not manageable, sporadic, with possible security issues to deploy as a major connectivity option in an Enterprise network. Thus many Enterprises have tried to use tools like Network Optimization (from Riverbed, Cisco & alike…) or Bandwidth Management tools (like Allot) for granularly tuning the traffic flowing on the expensive links.
One other issue raises if you are using services from 2 or 3 different Service Provider. It will be hard to determine how to use several links effectively, especially if the links are not of equal characteristics in terms of packet loss, BW, reliability, delay, jitter etc…Moreover it would be hard to claim that Service Providers do provide a transparent, and end to end SLA reporting for an Enterprise to make proper deductions and policies regarding the handling of the WAN resources. During the recent years Enterprises started to depend more on managed services from Telco operators, mostly MPLS VPN services. However it is debatable if this is really a managed service or an equipment lease, to make offering more attractive and bonding.
After this analysis we can come to the point 🙂
WAN Virtualization has the claim of solving most if not all of the issues mentioned above. How? By inserting an intelligent layer between the physical WAN resources that you have; which constantly monitors and measures the all links & paths available, makes routing, re-routing, load balancing decision accordingly. It also segregates the traffic to different QoS classes, and QoS policy is a factor now influencing the path selection for a specific traffic. Now all your links in the WAN, independent of from where you get it, which router or modem is used to make its connection, its intrinsic characteristics etc… can be combined user the same single policy, which makes use of all the BW you have efficiently, and reports you the full story. Moreover any failures, either at link level or protocol level, or significant quality distortions, such as high packet loss or increased delay could be instantaneously recognized by the system and necessary action (e.g. diverting the traffic to another path, or limiting file transfers etc..) are taken.
Although this technology is majorly a software innovation, you currently need to deploy appliances at the branch and the Central Office to deploy it. However the good thing is that the central management system can manage, configure, monitor & report the overall network. Encryption is also part of this structure as the system will make use of any good! BW it has, whether it is XDSL, FTTX, Cable internet, so it will encrypt all traffic.
Now after mentioning about the basics of the WAN Virtualization we can come back to the question if this is something that you should consider. From my observations in Turkish market I can see that, rather than reducing the WAN costs of an enterprise the main use of such a technology would be securely, and reliably increasing the available BW at branches from doubling, up to 10 times with very little marginal cost. Such an increase could seem unnecessary, with existing usage patterns but as history shows us, in networking supply will always bring on its demand. Especially when the communications becomes more and more media rich every day.
Still 2 more points needs to be addressed with this analysis. First, if & what kind of operational challenges can such a major change could cause. Obviously, initially at least there will be an operational difficulty for adapting to a different architecture. However in the long run WAN Managers can find out that they have a clearer view of their overall network, can manage the traffic more flexibly and a less painful failure handling process.
Second point to consider is, who are providing this technology. Is it going to be mainstream technology? Will it be blended into existing WAN devices such as routers and firewalls? Currently the leaders of this technology are mostly new founded start-ups from the USA. There are bunch of them such as TALARI, Viptela, Ipanema, or Cloudgenix, but some of them are already has an established channel & service organizations and reputable references. On the other hand likes of Cisco & Juniper also claim to integrate this technology into their branch series offerings, however obviously they are currently several years behind those innovators. Sometimes by acquiring a leading company, we can see that Cisco could leap, and dominate market with new technologies that is not coming from them too, but they can fail badly to do so too. Moreover such technology greatly commodities the branch router, by voiding most enhanced routing functionalities, QoS mechanisms unnecessary.
Finally we will see some other cloud companies such as Aryaka, or some Telco operators providing this concept as a managed service (real one!) or cloud service to the customers. If you already using cloud services as a major part of your IT infrastructure it would be much wiser and easier to migrate this architecture, as there are cloud modules for your virtual DC residing at the cloud.
As a last word, I can say that this is a promising technology, which will be entering into our WANs this way or the other soon. Better to exploit it sooner, than late. Even some of Service Providers, most probably the challengers, could bundle this technology to their own offerings to provide more reliable, cheaper per Mbps, and transparent services to their customers.