The next evolution of software-defined WAN technology could transform the way enterprises manage their branch-office networks.
One of the newer trends emerging in the networking industry is the software-defined branch. Vendors like Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, are rolling out SD-branch products, and analyst Lee Doyle has predicted the SD-branch market could be worth $3 billion by 2022.
But what exactly is SD-branch? Why should enterprises be interested in this technology?
To find out, Network Computing spoke with Brad Casemore, research vice president for data center networks at IDC. Casemore highlighted four things that IT infrastructure professionals need to understand about SD-branch.
1. SD-branch is a natural successor to SD-WAN
Casemore explained that SD-branch evolved out of software-defined WAN. “You can think of SD-branch as following in the in the same template as SD-WAN in that it's all about a policy-based, automated approach to IT infrastructure at the branch, so that it becomes more agile through programmability,” he said.
In essence, SD-branch solutions take the same SD-WAN technology that's transforming enterprise networks and adds more features to make it suitable for use in branch offices.
2. SD-branch is more comprehensive than SD-WAN
The new SD-branch solutions incorporate a lot more capabilities. “SD-WAN, of course, only deals with the connectivity issues to and from the branch," Casemore said. "SD-branch is more comprehensive than that. It is this centralized, orchestrated model to virtualize and service chain all the functions of the branch.”
For example, SD-branch solutions offer features like LAN connectivity, security, and other networking functions that most SD-WAN solutions don't include.
3. SD-branch offers cost savings
For enterprises, one of the biggest attractions of SD-branch is the potential CapEx and OpEx savings. Casemore explained that most branch offices use a lot of "middle boxes" -- dedicated appliances that serve various networking and security purposes. SD-branch solutions consolidate all that technology, which reduces organizations' overhead costs because they only need to buy one piece of hardware instead of several.
In addition, the programmability and centralized management of SD-branch products reduces a lot of the need for IT staff to be on site at the branch. “This sort of centralized approach to the SD-branch helps to mitigate, if not eliminate, branch IT,” said Casemore. And that reduces operational costs.
Eliminating branch IT might seem ominous to networking professionals concerned about their jobs, but Casemore pointed out that most companies already have very minimal IT staff for their branch offices. This new technology will likely affect IT professionals the way that changing technology has always affected them: They'll need to adapt their skills and get used to a new way of doing things. But Casemore added, "There still will be roles for people who have extremely deep knowledge of the network."
4. Organizations should be careful when selecting SD-branch technology
Companies will need to perform extensive due diligence when buying SD-branch products, Casemore said. SD-branch will need to integrate with a lot of other technology, and enterprises will need to make sure that the specific solution they choose will meet their needs.
“I think it has tremendous potential, but obviously, you have to be diligent in the way you source, qualify and implement the technology,” he added.
Keep in mind the SD-branch market is just emerging. “It’s very early but a number of vendors obviously have built a base with SD-WAN and have built that into more of a comprehensive platform,” Casemore said. He mentioned Cisco, HPE, VMware, Dell, Nokia, Juniper Networks, Silver Peak Systems, and Riverbed Technology as vendors involved in the space.
Casemore said SD-branch will play a critical role in helping companies become more agile. “You can see certain themes emerging in networking at the branch -- breaking down of the old traditional silos both architectural and operational [by] using more automation," he said. "This is all in service to the sort of agility that businesses feel they need as everybody is compelled to become more of a software company, more of a technology company.”