Achieving SD-WAN Network Resilience with a “Virtual Hands” Approach

by Alan Stewart–Brown, VP of EMEA at Opengear

“The Software Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) market is rapidly expanding. In July 2019, IDC announced that according to its SD-WAN Infrastructure Forecast: “This important segment of the enterprise networking market will grow at a 30.8% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2018 to 2023 to reach $5.25 billion.”

In fact, SD-WAN has rapidly become the standard in enterprise deployments. especially as deployments have moved to the edge. An SD-WAN network can manage multiple types of connections, from LTE to broadband to multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) links. This means that traffic can be routed over the most cost-effective services, such as broadband. Services that require high quality, such as video or voice, or high security, with sensitive information, can still be routed over remaining MPLS lines, although many enterprises are freeing themselves of MPLS entirely. Because of this flexibility, SD-WANs can dramatically lessen the cost and minimise the complexity of traditional WANs.

Resilience is key

Given the growing prevalence of SD-WAN in corporate infrastructures and given the move to home working driven by the current pandemic, keeping these key networks up and running and providing secure remote access to them is increasingly critical. 

That can be challenging. SD-WAN’s very sophistication can introduce points of vulnerability. Routers typically run a larger software stack. Firmware updates are common which means that there are many more opportunities for things to go wrong.

Every time a firmware update is executed, there is a risk of an error or misconfiguration which can bring down the router. These complex routers require more frequent updates than the legacy equipment, increasing the risk of an outage. Whether introducing new features or fixing bugs, outages have the potential to become catastrophic without the right kind of solution being in place.

Added to this, SD-WAN’s basic security offerings aren’t sufficient to protect an enterprise. Not only does the primary SD-WAN connection need to be secure – it must also be integrated into any other security solution that has been deployed. Yet, in a SD-WAN network, for example, it is difficult for engineers using traditional network management tools to find unauthorised IoT devices. Added to this, the fact that SD-WAN doesn’t provide the visibility that organisations need to ensure these IT applications work as required, makes it equally difficult to monitor or troubleshoot sites and underlay networks.

And while Cloud-Based Provisioning makes provisioning and configuration of an SD-WAN router easier and in a sense makes it more resilient to disruption, ultimately it is still in-band management, with all access to your network dependent on the same router.

In short, while SD-WAN brings many benefits and we have come to rely on it in the current pandemic, it also poses challenges to traditional network management which expects constant connectivity.

Finding a Solution

In this context, the latest Smart Out-of-Band Management tools offer a positive way forward. Not only can they provide an alternative path to devic­es located at remote sites when the primary network is down, helping mitigate the risk that SD-WAN can bring, they can also help facilitate access to edge infrastructure to ensure business continuity. Moreover, using a separate management plane solution allows organisations to securely monitor and access all devices without impacting normal operations. It’s what we might term a ‘virtual hands’ approach. Engineers will be alerted that a problem has occurred at a remote site and will then be able to proactively go to the device from their home office without having to go to their car or jump on an aeroplane – an even more critical benefit in the current crisis.

In addition to providing access when an issue arises, SD-WAN also enables organisations to improve day to day operations. Proactive monitoring enables staff to pre-emptively recognize and remediate issues to reduce the need for truck rolls.

Designed to provide the needed resilience at the edge, Smart Out-of-Band is scalable, providing the ability to manage infrastructure at distributed sites. Troubleshooting and remediation at the network’s edge enables organisations to detect faults before they become failures which minimises downtime and operating costs.

This resilient backup connectivity allows enterprises to reduce the time-consuming nature of dispatching engineers to data centre sites to make configuration changes and trouble-shoot issues for business continuity. Smart Out-of-Band and Failover to Cellular ensures that SD-WAN continues to operate when all other circuits are unavailable, providing the always-on remote access needed at the edge – and keeping businesses up and running in these difficult and unpredictable times.

READ NETWORKS EUROPE MAGAZINE

Networks Europe Issue May-June 2020

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