Cisco forges tighter SD-WAN links to Microsoft Azure cloud, Office 365

A broadened Cisco-Microsoft partnership promises extending Cisco SD-WAN to the Azure cloud and optimizing and securing connectivity to Office 365.

SD-WAN  >  The concept of a visual transition from hardware cables to software code.
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Cisco and Microsoft this week extended their relationship to make it easier and more efficient for SD-WAN customers to set up and run direct Internet access to enterprise applications such as Office 365 and other Azure Cloud services.

Specifically Cisco said it would integrate its SD-WAN package with Microsoft’s Azure Virtual WAN and Office365.  This amalgamation will let customers extend their WAN to Microsoft Azure Cloud and, in parallel, deliver optimized, secure Office 365 communications, according to Sachin Gupta, senior vice president, product management with Cisco’s Enterprise Networking Business.   

With the package SD-WAN customers will be able to make better determination of which networking path will be the most effective to handle Office 365 and Azure cloud workloads­.

Last year Cisco and Microsoft teamed to enhance Office 365 communications in particular. With that arrangement, Cisco SD-WAN software monitors in real-time all available paths to the Microsoft Office 365 cloud. Using Microsoft Office URLs, Cisco can determine the closest cloud, resulting in up to 40 percent faster performance for customers, Cisco said.

The new agreement is expected to take that enhancement a step further and integrate Cisco SD-WAN more deeply with Microsoft Office 365 to bolster application insights that will enable the package “to manage optimal network paths more effectively and further improve user experience,” Gupta said.

There will be additional details when the package is available in calendar year 2020, he said. Gupta said he expects trials to begin in the first quarter of 2020.

SD-WANs use software to control the connectivity, management and services between data centers and remote branches or cloud instances. Cisco’s SD-WAN software lets customers set up a networking fabric to connect data centers, branches, campuses, and colocation facilities to improve network speed, security, and efficiency, the company says.  

Cisco’s  package includes a menu of security features including support for URL filtering, Cisco Umbrella DNS security, intrusion/detection prevention, the ability to segment users across the WAN and embedded platform security, including the Cisco Trust Anchor module. The software also supports SD-WAN Cloud onRamp for CoLocation, which lets customers tie distributed multicloud applications back to a local branch office or local private data center. That way, a cloud-to-branch link would be shorter, faster and possibly more secure than tying cloud-based applications directly to the data center, Cisco said. 

Microsoft defines its Azure Virtual WAN as a networking service that provides optimized and automated branch connectivity to Azure services. Azure regions serve as hubs that customers can connect branches to, and Azure Virtual WAN brings together many Azure cloud connectivity services such as site-to-site VPN, User VPN (point-to-site), and ExpressRoute into a single operational interface, the company says. Other vendors such as Check Point, Citrix, Cloudgenix, Fortinet, Riverbed Technology, Silver-Peak and Versa also have integration with Azure Virtual WAN services. 

Cisco and Microsoft have been working for a couple of years tying together Azure and SD-WAN and other Cisco networking technology. 

For example, in September Cisco extended its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) technology and its ACI Anywhere technology to Azure to help customers grow and control hybrid, multicloud and SD-WAN environments. 

ACI is Cisco’s flagship software-defined networking (SDN) data-center package, but it also delivers the company’s Intent-Based Networking technology, which brings customers the ability to automatically implement network and policy changes on the fly and ensure data delivery.

ACI Anywhere  gives customers the flexibility to run and control applications anywhere they want across private or public clouds or at the edge while maintaining consistent network and security  policies across their entire domain.

In the Microsoft case, key pieces of ACI Anywhere include the ability to integrate Microsoft Azure clouds and a cloud-only implementation of ACI. Cisco also added Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) to managed services that natively integrate with the Cisco Container Platform.

With the Azure cloud extension the service uses the Cisco Cloud APIC, which runs natively in Azure public cloud to provide automated connectivity, policy translation and enhanced visibility of workloads in the public cloud, Cisco said.  With new Azure extensions, customers can tap into cloud workloads through ACI integrations with Azure technologies like Azure Monitor, Azure Resource Health and Azure Resource Manager to fine-tune their network operations for speed, flexibility and cost, Cisco stated.

Cisco also works with other cloud vendorsor. For example it has close relationships with Amazon Web Services, Google and IBM, and the agreement with Microsoft is not exclusive, the company said. Will similar packages be available for those cloud offerings?

“Stay tuned,” Gupta said.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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