Online academy aims to help explain ins and outs of SD-WAN

Software Defined Wide Area Network, or SD-WAN, is gaining a following but the technology is still fairly new, and therefore confusing to many. That is why the SD-WAN Academy, an online platform, wants to teach organizations about its capabilities.

Academy President Craig Easley said that, as can happen with novel concepts, SD-WAN is all the rage and has inspired a variety of networking vendors, equipment manufacturers and suppliers to either change their existing equipment or buy companies that have SD-WAN solutions. It means growing their businesses “inorganically.”

“So as with any new technology, there’s a lot of confusion about what it can do, what the benefits of implementing it are. There are a lot of confusions about different vendors’ implementations, because there are only a couple of emerging standards. Everybody’s kind of doing their own thing,” he said on Federal Monthly Insights – Network Modernization and SD-WAN. “There’s a lot of confusion and the Academy was created to basically address that head on.”

SD-WAN Academy President Craig Easley

He described SD-WAN as “an implementation of intelligence at the edge, where the subscriber connects to the wide area network.” Some of the different types of wide area networks include virtual private networks, or VPNs, and broadband services. SD-WAN then looks at the application and decides whether to use the private connectivity service, or a lower cost internet connection to provide the connectivity.

“The software-defined part of it looks at the application flow, and based upon policies and the inventory of connectivity services that you have, it makes the appropriate choice to steer the traffic over the private VPN connection, or the public internet connection,” Easley said on Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Decisions on those services occur at the user device, called the “SD-WAN edge” or SD-WAN gateway, which has a connection to the enterprise network. It then has two or more connections — one on a private VPN connectivity service and one on a public internet-based connectivity service, Easley said.

The SD-WAN Academy works with the Metro Ethernet Forum, and indirectly with the Open Network Users Group — an industry group of government agencies, large enterprises, telecom service providers and equipment vendors — to gather technical aspects and requirements for talking to end users about their early experiences with SD-WAN. In addition, he said the security architecture should work the same regardless of whether the device is in the cloud, a home office or a coffee shop.

“And in fact, that’s one of the reasons that this SD-WAN technology has kind of captured everybody’s imagination,” Easley said. “Over the past several years, or let’s say the past decade, really, as applications have moved more into the cloud, a lot of the common applications that we use have been rewritten and re-architected for that model. So when you move some of these applications that customers are using onto an internet connection, there’s no degradation in performance. The end user experience is exactly the same.”

Having SD-WAN also allows users to scale capacity requirements and bandwidth up or down depending on the need. An appliance, such as a switch or router, is deconstructed into its components: Switching and routing, firewall, load balancing and intrusion detection. From there, each component is a piece of software code that can run “anywhere,” he said. That modularity and elasticity is SD-WAN’s draw, and it is an alternative to buying additional T1 lines or service, which can be costly.

To get SD-WAN, agencies and enterprise customers are going to their service providers and asking to buy it from them, saying “You’re our networking experts, we want you to sell us an SD-WAN-managed offering,” which the provider sets up and manages, Easley said. Now, major telecommunication providers have managed SD-WAN services with multiple products to build and deliver these services.

“The main benefits of deploying an SD-WAN solution are, first of all, that you can take advantage of lower cost broadband internet connections to power a lot of the applications that are clogging up the VPN pipes today,” he said. “The second is that you have resiliency almost built into it because you have at least two connectivity services, a private VPN-based one and a public one. If one of them goes down, you can use the other one to kind of back it up, if you will.”

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