Tight Wi-Fi integration is key to successful SD-Branch

With Wi-Fi an essential part of branch-office network access, its security and management needs to be fully baked into SD-Branch platforms.

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The promise of SD-Branch is that by collapsing network functionality in branch offices to a unified platform, enterprises can reap benefits in speed of deployment, ease of operation and cost. Since Wi-Fi is a critical piece of local area communications for many branch sites, improved integration, security and management of Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly important to evaluating the benefits of SD-Branch solutions.

In branch offices, connected LAN devices and applications must be linked to the Internet via SD-WAN services. By integrating LAN and WAN connectivity, SD-WAN helps to simplify network management with a unified platform as compared to each function having its own unique management console.

SD-Branch network management systems need to be able to address the unique requirements of Wi-Fi: prioritizing specified users and applications, providing a visual “heat map” of Wi-Fi usage, performing spectrum analysis and setting/enforcing policy end-to-end.

Organizations with current or planned IoT implementations will want Wi-Fi systems that support location services, have IoT software partners and additional wireless connectivity adoptions such as Bluetooth and Zigbee.

Similarly, security on SD-Branch platforms would ideally address the particular needs of Wi-Fi. Securing Wi-Fi implementations is critical for most enterprises as sensitive corporate and IoT traffic traverses the Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi suppliers need to provide built in security features including encryption, firewall, and provide dynamic segmentation to isolate network traffic. 

The challenge of integrating Wi-Fi into SD-Branch is significant, in part because the use cases of Wi-Fi in branch offices varies widely depending on the type of business they support. A chain coffee shop, for example, has with a complex set of applications which require multiple network (Wi-Fi) segments.  Continuous network operations are required for sales, customer satisfaction and security.  For example, applications with network requirements include point of sale, employee connectivity, guest Wi-Fi, security cameras, and IoT sensors (e.g. refrigeration and thermostat).

Convenience stores have a different set of needs. They rely on network operations for sales, employee productivity and to protect their inventory.  Applications include lottery sales, ordering kiosks, point of sale, employee connectivity, security, and IoT devices such as refrigeration monitors.

Retail bank branches rely on secure, highly reliable network operations for employee productivity, ATM operations, customer satisfaction, and physical security.  Network segments can include ATM, guest Wi-Fi, SaaS applications, point of sale, security cameras and other IoT devices.

SD-Branch platforms need to be able to support these varying Wi-Fi requirements. They need to:

  • Prioritize traffic for critical applications with end-to-end visibility
  • Support multiple networks with logical network isolation
  • Deliver network security such as firewalls with links to cloud-based security intelligence
  • Offer robust, centralized management, automation and network orchestration (MANO) platforms

SD-Branch with a solid Wi-Fi solution can collapse the functions that now require four to seven distinct software/hardware platforms. Most IT professionals report that troubleshooting application slowdowns at remote branch locations to be quite challenging.  With SD-Branch, IT can identify and remediate applications slowdowns from centralized management consoles.

IT organizations already have to manage and secure high-speed networks at branch locations with multiple network segments and support for critical applications, video and IoT devices. SD-Branch solutions eliminate many of the challenges of integrating multiple LAN, wireless, WAN and security solutions at branch locations and can be suitable for new branches or those being refreshed.

SD-Branch technology, including Wi-Fi, is now ready for implementation at the edge of the network.  As with any new technology, SD-Branch does not solve all branch networking issues for all organizations.  Some of the technology elements of the current SD-Branch solutions are stronger than others (e.g. SD-WAN vs security vs. Wi-Fi functionality).  SD-Branch providers must have a robust partner ecosystem for technology integration – especially with leading network security providers.

SD-Branch is now being deployed by many leading IT organizations across verticals including manufacturing, financial services, retail, and restaurants.  IT can be an ideal solution for rapid deployment of new sites.  Over time SD-Branch features and management will mature to where it will the standard architecture for connectivity at branch locations.

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