The SD-WAN MPS Predicament

The SD-WAN MPS Predicament

Will MPS disappear in the near future? Will SD-WAN take over?

The software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) is emerging as one of the hottest growth areas for the enterprise. With the demands of mobile users, the IoT, and the emerging digital services market continuously pushing virtualized infrastructure past the data center to the cloud and beyond, organizations are in dire need of rapid provisioning and agile connectivity over the long haul.

SD-WAN provides flexibility and dynamic provisioning, while lowering the cost of connecting the data center to the cloud and branch office infrastructure. It also stands to improve another crucial piece of the emerging data connectivity formula: uptime. It achieves virtually 100 percent uptime for increasingly complex network architectures. This is accomplished through four key capabilities: application prioritization, broadband aggregation, dynamic bandwidth management, and network firewall virtualization. With these functions built into the SD-WAN operational stack as core elements, the enterprise gains greater network optimization and manageability, as well as improved security, better compliance, and faster implementation of new network architectures — all of which reduces downtime to near zero even as network scope and complexity increase.

Understanding the architecture

SDN architecture defines how a networking and computing system can be built using a combination of open, software-based technologies and commodity networking hardware that separate the SDN control plane and the SDN data plane of the networking stack.

Traditionally, both the SDN control plane and data plane elements of a networking architecture were packaged in proprietary, integrated code distributed by one or a combination of proprietary vendors. The OpenFlow standard, created in 2008, was recognized as the first SDN architecture that defined how the control and data plane elements would be separated and communicate with each other using the OpenFlow protocol. The Open Network Foundation is the body in charge of managing OpenFlow standards, which are open source. However, there are other standards and open-source organizations with SDN resources, so OpenFlow is not the only protocol that makes up SDN.

Three SDN Stacks. In the SDN architecture, the splitting of the control and data forwarding functions is referred to as disaggregation, because these pieces can be sourced separately, rather than deployed as one integrated system. This architecture gives the applications more information about the state of the entire network from the controller, as opposed to traditional networks where the network is application aware.

SDN architectures generally have three components or groups of functionality:

SDN applications are programs that communicate behaviors and needed resources with the SDN Controller via application programming interface (APIs). In addition, the applications can build an abstracted view of the network by collecting information from the controller for decision-making purposes. These applications could include networking management, analytics, or business applications used to run large data centers. For example, an analytics application might be built to recognize suspicious network activity for security purposes.

The SDN Controller is a logical entity that receives instructions or requirements from the SDN application layer and relays them to the networking components. The controller also extracts information about the network from the hardware devices and communicates back to the SDN applications with an abstract view of the network, including statistics and events about what is happening.

The SDN networking devices control the forwarding and data processing capabilities for the network. This includes forwarding and processing of the data path.

The SDN architecture APIs are often referred to as northbound and southbound interfaces, defining the communication between the applications, controllers, and networking systems. A Northbound interface is defined as the connection between the controller and applications, whereas the Southbound interface is the connection between the controller and the physical networking hardware. Because SDN is a virtualized architecture, these elements do not have to be physically located in the same place.

SDN WAN is an extension of SDN, which applies SDN to networking connections covering a wide geographical area. SD-WAN is becoming increasingly popular among enterprises as it unifies various connections within an enterprise. For example, SD-WAN connects branch offices and data centers that in a wide-geographical area within an enterprise. In addition, the SD-WAN architecture brings heightened security to a network with end-to-end encryption across the network.

It is emerging as an equal partner to SD-LAN under the broader SDN framework, based on the need to implement connectivity across long distances without tapping into carrier-class NFV solutions. SD-WAN targets key capabilities like real-time provisioning and configuration that organizations require between main offices, branches, partners, and other remote sites. These are supported by SDN-facing virtualization and optimization layers, coupled with secure internet access and interoperability with third-party infrastructure.

A software defined WAN is likely to become a common facet of the enterprise network going forward considering the havoc that increased data flows and rapidly scaling interconnectivity will cause to MPLS architectures. Bandwidth requirements could quadruple or more by the end of the decade due to increased use of voice, video, and other data-heavy applications. Without SD-WAN, the enterprise would be forced to eat the cost or push networking onto the public internet, which does not provide the most reliable service. SD-WAN allows organizations to optimize bandwidth dynamically, creating network pathways that are both resource-efficient and reliable.

And since data will likely touch a range of vendor platforms, interoperability becomes a key requirement.

SD-WAN as a service using orchestration. The big advantage of offering telecom services in the cloud is that these services can be orchestrated and delivered with the aid of software. SD-WAN connectivity can be delivered as a service using software orchestration.

An SD-WAN can be used to deliver enterprise services such as virtual private networks (VPNs), WAN acceleration, and bandwidth optimization. By using commodity off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware in branch offices, SD-WAN as a service using orchestration can be delivered with the aid of virtual customer premises (vCPE) or lightweight CPE equipment.

MEF is an organization that works toward SD-WAN standardization, including defining SD-WAN as a service and outlining its architecture. Service providers see SD-WAN as a service as a new revenue opportunity where they can manage WAN services for enterprise businesses. SD-WAN can be appealing to end users and enterprises that do not want to manage the WAN network or applications and would like to outsource these services to a service provider.

Market dynamics

As network pros rely more and more on SD-WAN to streamline connections among enterprise sites, the market for this technology will balloon to USD 1.19 billion by the end of this year, according to IDC. Over the next 5 years, SD-WAN sales will grow at a 69 percent compound annual growth rate, hitting USD 8.05 billion in 2021. As businesses adopt technologies such as cloud, mobile, big data, and analytics, they put increased strain on the network. As organizations look to better connect their remote and branch office employees and provide them better quality network services, SD-WAN will continue to grow.

On the basis of offering, the SD-WAN market is classified into solution and service. The solution category held a larger revenue share in the market accounting for nearly 78 percent in 2017. During the period, 2019–2023, the market for SD-WAN service is expected to witness higher growth, as the need for traffic management to optimize bandwidth and cost reduction by replacement of dedicated WAN network with broadband network without compromising on security, increases, according to P&S Market Research.

Based on appliances, the SD-WAN market is categorized into virtual, physical, and hybrid appliances. Virtual appliance accounted for largest revenue share in the market in 2017. It will continue to contribute largest revenue share over the next 5 years, owing to the fact that it reduces the cost incurred in installation and offers configuration and maintenance of complex stack of software virtually.

Based on the industry, it is segmented into IT & telecom, banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI), government, healthcare and others, where others include defense, retail, and manufacturing industries. The IT and  telecom accounted for nearly 40 percent revenue of the SD-WAN market in 2017, owing to the evolving telecommunications and information technology, and demand for greater bandwidth for high performance applications.

The SD-WAN infrastructure revenues increased 83.3 percent in 2017 to reach USD 833 million, according to IDC. The market has also become increasingly competitive, with traditional networking vendors looking to M&A strategies to complement their existing offerings or gain a foothold in this rapidly-expanding market. IDC found that Cisco holds the largest share of the SD-WAN infrastructure market, fueled by its extensive routing portfolio that is used in SD-WAN deployments, as well as its Meraki offering and its August 2017 acquisition of Viptela. VMware, which in December 2017 purchased VeloCloud, holds the second largest market share in the SD-WAN infrastructure market, followed by Silver Peak, Riverbed, Aryaka, Nokia, and Versa.

The Asia-Pacific SD-WAN market is expected to witness a CAGR of 57.9 percent during 2018-2023. Since the internet speed and internet quality have significantly improved in the region, IT departments are looking for cost effective, secure, performance related solutions to reduce their dependency on multi-protocol label switching (MPLS). Organizations in the IT and telecom industry in the region are focusing on agile, secure, and end-to-end visible WAN management solution, which will support the market growth in future.

The growth of data-intensive applications with the emergence of cloud technology is making SD-WAN technology a promising solution for geographically distant offices, which need reliable and faster bandwidth. The companies transitioning into cloud hosted software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) applications, have started focusing on new WAN solutions to increase productivity and business execution. As a result, enterprises are focusing on updating their legacy network infrastructure, which will support the growth of the SD-WAN market. The SD-WAN solutions enable enterprises to centrally manage and automate configurations of WAN edge routers and reduce the overall operational cost.

With growing network complexity and data congestion on network ends, the demand for policy-based routing solutions in the IT industry to assign path to their traffic, based on source, destination, or specific application is increasing. The SD-WAN solutions offer intelligent path control by steering traffic, based on application, IP addresses, quality of service (QoS), and time of day.

While the availability and maintenance of bandwidth is costly, enterprises are heading toward new technology solutions for economical bandwidth expansion. The SD-WAN solutions provide businesses with independence and flexibility of transport by aggregating all available bandwidth, and maximizing its usage while ensuring high network performance, manageability, and reliability.

Players in the SD-WAN market are focusing on developing simplified network architecture with enhanced features such as privacy and visibility, which will help in monitoring and measuring network traffic, providing deep visibility to IT department into WAN, and allowing them to quickly pinpoint a security attack.

Going forward, cloud service providers will continue to add services, such as analytics or compliance monitoring, to boost SD-WAN offerings. Another trend occurring in the SD-WAN market is consolidation. Oracle recently acquired Talari Networks. The cloud provider has also integrated Aryaka SD-WAN into Oracle Cloud. In May 2017, Cisco had announced the acquisition of Viptela for USD 610 million.

According to IHS Markit, nearly three-quarters of mid-sized to large enterprises are conducting SD-WAN trials at the moment, with a large portion expecting to transition to live production later this year. The need is clear: with application services becoming increasingly important to the business model, organizations need a low-cost yet flexible way to move data over the wide area. Once the floodgates are open, expect the rise of SD-WAN to be rapid, perhaps to the tune of 20 percent growth per year for data center traffic and 30 percent for branch offices and remote sites.

The Indian market. SD-WAN is poised to take the lead of providing affordable, reliable, and dynamic connectivity that will render its predecessor, MPLS (yet to get a decent foothold) obsolete. The four drivers — digital transformation, cloud first, telecom deregulation, and broadband everywhere — are powerful mutually reinforcing forces that is making SD-WAN as the primary connectivity choice.

The SD-WAN versus MPS debate

One of MPLS’s most important aspects is the reliable delivery of packets. This reliability is especially essential to maintain the quality of real-time protocols, such as voice of IP. MPLS providers can also assign a higher priority to certain network traffic. These benefits bring a sense of traffic predictability within the network. Network paths are predetermined, so packets travel only along the paths to which they are directed.

One downside of MPLS is bandwidth cost. Today’s consumers are increasingly interested in bandwidth-hogging multimedia content such as videos and augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR), and the high per-megabit cost that MPLS demands can be out of reach. Finally, an MPLS network doesn’t offer built-in data protection, and if incorrectly implemented, it can open the network to vulnerabilities.

SD-WAN offers several benefits over traditional MPLS networks. The core value proposition of SD-WAN is that it promises to dramatically impact the entire enterprise networking ecosystem. With SD-WAN, geographic boundaries are erased, and key benefits such as visibility, scalability, performance, and control are enhanced.

Unlike MPLS, SD-WAN comes with no bandwidth penalties. Perhaps the greatest selling point for SD-WAN is the ability to cost-effectively mix and match network links according to content type or priority. Both Internet broadband and 4G LTE are less expensive than MPLS, so customers can choose those links instead of the expensive MPLS network for certain types of lower-priority traffic.

Arguably the primary advantage of SD-WAN is security. Today’s companies prefer network architectures that integrate security, policy, and orchestration, and SD-WAN covers those bases by unifying secure connectivity. In the SD-WAN architecture, a company benefits from end-to-end encryption across the entire network, including the internet. All devices and endpoints are completely authenticated, thanks to a scalable key-exchange functionality and software-defined security.

Having said that, MPLS is not expected to disappear in the near future. Considering that MPLS is a proven, trusted network protocol for high volume traffic, it continues to find place in legacy network architecture. Organizations, rather than do away with MPLS, are more likely to overlay their current networks with WAN optimization services. A hybrid WAN strategy allows organizations to leverage the low cost bandwidth of the public internet, along with the availability and performance of SD-WAN. For example, low availability traffic such as internal portals can use internet links, while high performance needs such as alerts can be driven through MPLS.

In conclusion,  these two technologies work best when paired together, with SD-WAN serving to support key MPLS capabilities. Many telecom customers are likely to need both SD-WAN and MPLS, depending on their network configurations. So it is not an SD-WAN versus MPLS scenario necessarily – particularly for enterprises that already have MPLS.

With dynamic load balancing and failover, the client may route non-mission critical traffic like software usages, email, and storage file transfers over SD-WAN, while still handle mission-critical applications like voice and real-time video over MPLS.

CT Bureau

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