Microsoft and VMware have taken their well-established relationship up a notch by tying together application and network technologies to help customers support secure WAN access to critical enterprise applications.\nSpecifically, the companies have combined Azure Virtual WAN Hub with VMware's\u00a0SD-WAN technology so that VMware's SD-WAN customers can link resources using the networking, security, and routing services in Azure WAN Hub. They announced the news at his week's Microsoft Ignite virtual conference.\n\n Read more: Top metrics for multicloud management\n\nMicrosoft Azure Virtual WAN Hub provides optimized and automated branch connectivity to Azure services. Azure regions serve as hubs that customers connect to, and Azure Virtual WAN brings together many Azure cloud connectivity services such as site-to-site VPN, point-to-site VPN and ExpressRoute into a single operational interface, the company says.\nThe SD-WAN news comes on the heels of a Dell'Oro Group report that finds the worldwide SD-WAN market grew 50% in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to the prior year. "The combination of pent-up demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and an acceleration away from legacy technologies created a surge in SD-WAN adoption during the fourth quarter," said Shin Umeda, vice president at Dell'Oro Group.\nThe top five vendors\u00a0\u2013 Cisco, VMware, Fortinet, Versa, and HPE\/Silver Peak \u2013 accounted for almost two-thirds of SD-WAN market revenue share, Umeda stated.\nOne of the driving ideas behind the integration of VMware's SD-WAN and Microsoft's Virtual WAN Hub is to make it easier for customers to deploy widely distributed business applications, said Sanjay Uppal, senior vice president and general manager of VMware's SD-WAN and SASE business.\n"The way businesses and customers access resources has fundamentally changed during the pandemic \u2013 and network traffic can be generated from branch offices, cars, homes, you name it, and all of that traffic needs to be protected and optimized," Uppal said.\nWith the new integration, all SD-WAN branches or locations in the customer enterprise network or in employee homes can connect to SD-WAN edges deployed in Virtual WAN hubs and exchange connectivity information. With this architecture, customers can have thousands of locations connecting to Azure cloud with a single policy change, Uppal said.\u00a0\nCustomers also have the option to consume VMware SD-WAN Edges deployed and maintained by Microsoft\/VMware in Virtual WAN Hubs, as a managed service, if they choose, Uppal said.\nIn addition, since Azure Virtual WAN hubs can communicate with other Azure hubs, SD-WAN branches can easily route traffic over the Azure backbone infrastructure to the closest Virtual WAN hub to exchange information, Uppal said.\nThis VMware\/Microsoft integration is just the latest in a list of work the companies have done. In a recent tie-in last year, VMware said it is working with Microsoft to offer services for Azure Edge Zones and Azure Private Edge Zones. Edge Zones deliver Azure services and let customers run Virtual Network Functions including VMware SD-WAN by VeloCloud across Azure regions and Azure Edge Zones.\nAnother example is the Azure VMware Solution service that lets customers link VMware workloads from on-premises environments to Azure. The service lets users build, run, manage, and secure applications across VMware environments and Microsoft Azure while employing established VMware tools.\nAruba, Cisco pursue tech tie-ins, too\nVMware has critical technology relationships with other big cloud players, such as AWS and Google. It's a strategy that its competitors are following as well. For example, Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, said at Ignite it is further collaborating with Microsoft on two new services. The first, Aruba IoT Transport for Azure, lets customers link IoT devices connected to Aruba access points and controllers to the Azure IoT Hub. The idea is to allow the secure, bidirectional movement of data between IoT devices and Azure applications, Aruba stated.\n"Aruba IoT Transport for Azure eliminates the need for an intermediate gateway, server, or application, reducing processing latency," Aruba stated.\nThe second service will let customers host the company's core Aruba Central cloud management platform on the Azure cloud.\nCisco, too, has made a number of tie-ins with Microsoft Azure and other cloud players.\u00a0 In September, for example, Cisco added a feature to its SD-WAN Cloud OnRamp package to help customers manage and improve application performance of Azure-based workloads. (Related story: Cisco extends SD-WAN options with AWS, Azure hybrid-cloud integration)\nOne of the new features, called URL categorization, lets customers create separate policies around specific types of traffic feeding into Microsoft 365, giving customers more detailed control over traffic management within the platform.\nThe companies also enhanced connectivity between OnRamp and Azure's Virtual WAN offering. The Virtual WAN integration between Cisco and Microsoft extends the Cisco SD-WAN fabric directly into the Azure Virtual WAN, Cisco stated, which will enable users to automatically connect to other networking gateways and routers within the Virtual WAN hubs. These can include ExpressRoute, IPSec VPN gateways, Azure Firewall, and push and pull policies or requirements to the Hub in the Virtual WAN as a site within Cisco SD-WAN, Cisco stated.\nCisco\u00a0and Microsoft have also 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. This integration lets customers extend their WAN to Microsoft Azure Cloud and, in parallel, deliver optimized, secure Office 365 communications, according to Cisco.