Evolving communications in a dynamic Software Defined world

In today’s business world, nothing is static. Business is constantly in motion, reconfiguring operations to take advantage of new opportunities and responding to customer needs. For an enterprise with multiple sites, that means that what works today from a networking perspective may not be adequate tomorrow.

Meeting the needs of branch offices and remote sites depends on high-speed, powerful wide area network (WAN) capabilities. But for many organizations, the ability to meet peak demands means they would have to invest in capabilities that will at other times be underutilized.

Enterprise IT managers are dealing with virtually insatiable demands for broadband. IDC data shows that more than 53% of enterprises expect to support a 20% yearly increase in WAN bandwidth, but within the constraints of flat budgets for connectivity and managed services.

“Enterprises are experiencing increasing bandwidth requirements with growth rates approaching 30-40% per year, which vary by application,” IDC analyst Courtney Munroe wrote in a recent white paper. “In some cases, these applications only require peak bandwidth for a short duration or for a specific workload, so on-demand bandwidth flexibility is both appealing and cost-effective based on the dynamic requirements of the business.”

Diverse mix of WAN connectivity

The future of WAN networking, according to the analysts, incorporates a diverse mix of Ethernet, Internet IP VPN, wireless and MPLS VPN network connectivity. Enterprise branch office communication needs are evolving and will take advantage of on-demand capabilities of software-defined networks (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) technologies. That provides flexibility to use the technologies that best meet the needs of legacy, premise-based or cloud-hosted applications, the IDC analysts wrote.

Most enterprises already use two or more types of WAN connections at each of their branches. They’re also facing a significant challenge to support an increasing range of cloud-hosted business applications, according to Munroe.

“Deploying services to remote offices in a software-defined world will become more important as businesses migrate more applications to cloud-managed services,” the analysts say, adding, “and a WAN upgrade to support a new site, application or policy has to be designed for service flexibility to enable new services to be added, especially as new virtualized services become more prevalent.”

Dynamic network services

As business cloud service adoption grows and hybrid cloud use increases, those enterprises need solutions that address performance, security, resiliency, scale and on-demand requirements in a dynamic network services environment that is changing rapidly, according to the IDC report.

“Enterprise IT managers are faced with challenges in supporting a wide range of branch office communication options including internet access, Ethernet services and IP VPN services using a combination of broadband, wireless Ethernet and MPLS networks cost effectively,” Munroe writes.

“The use of software-defined networking services that can be delivered as either virtualized offerings such as a virtualized network firewall service or virtual WAN optimization services from a common vCPE or Universal CPE platform or that are virtual overlays on a carrier-grade x86 server platform are also important to address the speed and agility of today's enterprise communication requirements,” the IDC analysts contend.

Multiple network functions on single uCPE

AT&T has recently launched AT&T FlexWare, that was formerly known as Network Functions on Demand can house multiple FlexWare Applications (network functions) on a single FlexWare Device to replace the need for multiple specialized hardware appliances.

Among the benefits, one standards-based, off-the-shelf server can perform any AT&T certified network infrastructure function. Initial VNFs available include Juniper Networks’ virtual router, Cisco virtual router, Fortinet virtual security and Riverbed virtual WAN accelerator with many more FlexWare Applications to come in the near future.

The IDC report notes that AT&T’s service offerings support five key attributes:

  • Breadth of access and extended global reach.
  • Secure cloud connectivity to public and private cloud services
  • On-demand bandwidth flexibility via simple portal
  • Simple CPE that enables more software-defined service choices via portals
  • Integration of wireless and broadband with MPLS & Ethernet services

AT&T FlexWare will dramatically speed up the provisioning of WAN services. Instead of having to forklift in a new device, or truck-rolling a tech to replace boards whenever new network features needed to be added, those new features can be downloaded as software to update in-place FlexWare Devices.

That type of provisioning is particularly important in businesses and remote sites where there is little IT and WAN expertise, according to IDC. “This universal CPE acts as a platform for future security, WAN optimization and application-aware services,” the analysts say, with any employee able to easily install a server that can automatically capture its IP address, policies and WAN parameters.

Opting for managed services

Still, managing disparate network technologies requires management and staffing overhead that few enterprises desire. It also limits the ability of organizations to take advantage of new applications that legacy systems can’t handle. The IDC report recommends that enterprises consider a managed service provider that can offer the appropriate hybrid WAN-cloud connectivity solutions encompassing diverse WAN technologies.

For most, the move to software defined networking technology will be a transitional journey. Enterprises have investments in existing proprietary hardware that they need to leverage, and in many cases lack internal skillsets to effectively leverage the migration to SDN and NFV. Managed services can bridge the gap between legacy hardware and new solutions. In a recent survey conducted for AT&T by IDG Research Services, 75% of respondents said they would value the ability to offloading the burden of installation, configuration and running network hardware.

The next wave of networking technologies will transform management of network infrastructure. With its software-driven WAN capabilities, AT&T can deliver new services and capabilities with the type of agility that enterprises have already realized in cloud-based data center services. For more information, please click on http://www.networkworld.com/article/3125593/lan-wan/meeting-enterprise-network-demands-with-hybrid-wans.html.

Listen in on a recent AT&T and Frost & Sullivan webinar as they discuss how Network Function Virtualization (NFV) will help change that network model by simplifying your WAN deployment and management functions. Register here: http://Gain_the_Advantage_with_NFV.

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