Organizations of all sizes struggle with task of efficiently and reliably networking their remote branch offices. There are more than 1.6 million branch offices in the U.S. alone and a single large retailer typically has thousands of stores. These organizations spend in excess of $10 billion per year on branch networking gear.
Distributed organizations are hoping to improve application performance, centralize management, and control the costs of branch networking. Emerging technologies such as software-defined WAN expand the options for WAN infrastructure and can help streamline WAN operations.
Branch networks under pressure
Several IT trends have had major impacts on branch networking requirements, including increased bandwidth requirements, the rise in popularity of cloud-based applications, and the pervasive security threat environment. WAN bandwidth requirements continue to rise at 20%+ year due to the increased complexity of distributed applications and the impact of video traffic. This increase in traffic places stress on traditional network links such as MPLS.
The growing use of cloud-based and SaaS applications, including Salesforce, Office 385, Lync, means that more traffic is diverted to the Internet. This trend toward increased Internet traffic is exacerbated for branches with customer WiFi such as retailers.
In the current pervasive threat environment, branch network security must be addressed in conjunction with overall corporate HQ and data center security. Attackers will target the weakest link in the organization, and this often is found at the network edge.
Branch networking requirements
The growth in the number of network elements at the branch has increased the complexity of network installation, operation, and management. The network branch can involve several unique elements including: Ethernet switches, branch routers, wireless LAN, WAN optimization, and network security such as firewalls.
Remote IT personal continue to be challenged by troubleshooting of branch networking issues, such as downtime or slow application performance. Each network device has its own complex interface and may not easily interoperate with other network elements. The solution is the ability to centrally monitor, manage, and troubleshot all the elements at the network branch by IT experts and hopefully eliminate the need for remote service calls.
Security is a critical concern due to the distributed nature of cloud applications and remote users who can no longer be controlled by IT. As the security perimeters break down, security and policies need to be embedded within the network. These security capabilities at the edge must be coordinated with and managed by centralized security elements in the data center.
Many organizations with numerous branches, such as retail and restaurant chains, operate on small margins. These organizations must adapt to increased WAN bandwidth requirements with the constraints of a flat budget. The ability to securely and reliably leverage low cost Internet links is critical.
Branch networking suppliers
SD-WAN technology has emerged as a leading example of the power of SDN to enhance WANs. A number of organizations with distributed locations/branches currently leverage SD-WAN technologies to deploy hybrid WAN (e.g., MPLS and Internet) and to improve QoS, lower latency, and increase security over Internet links.
Many vendors offer SD-WAN, including Cisco, which is a clear leader in branch networking and offers a plethora of options, including routers, switches, WiFi, and security products. Other branch networking suppliers include:
- Routing –Juniper Networks, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
- WAN optimization – Riverbed Technology, Citrix, Silver Peak, Talari
- SD-WAN – Riverbed, Viptela, VeloCloud, Citrix, Versa Networks, Silver Peak, Cradlepoint
- Network security - Juniper, Palo Alto Networks, Fortinet, Intel Security, Check Point Software Technologies, F5 Networks
Evaluating branch network needs
The branch networking market is very diverse with many types of infrastructure, often in multiple combinations. Organizations must clearly identify current and near-future WAN requirements for their branch offices.
IT pros should answer the following questions when evaluating branch networking requirements.
- How many branch locations do you have currently? How many do you expect to have in the future?
- What are the key applications at your branch locations? How will you provide appropriate QoS and latency?
- What types of WAN-facing appliances are at branch locations? This includes routers, firewalls, WAN optimization, and SD-WAN devices.
- What is your current monthly WAN cost?
- How do you currently manage and operate the branch network? Are there ways to reduce operational costs?
- What are your security requirements at the branch?
There are a lot of excellent software-based branch networking products to address security, bandwidth, and centralized management concerns. Enterprises today have many options for streamlining their branch network operations. Careful planning can pay dividends.