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The next horizon for programmable infrastructure – the software defined LAN

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The next horizon for programmable infrastructure – the software defined LAN

Lawrence van Deusen | Group Networking Practice Director – Wired & Wireless, Dimension Data

Lawrence van Deusen | Group Networking Practice Director – Wired & Wireless, Dimension Data

The network has never been more critical to an organisation’s success, and every day mobility, cloud, hybrid IT and IoT bring tougher demands.

With the advent of virtualisation, network abstraction and automation technologies, the way that networks are designed, managed and deployed have fundamentally changed. The principles that support the software defined network have been built on these technology drivers.  It’s true that the origin of software defined networking was in the data centre.  The ability to program the data centre network was largely introduced and driven by service providers to drive efficiencies in application deployment, and reducing costs through the virtualisation of expensive networking hardware.  But, the technology has evolved and moved from being service provider focused and nascent to a mature more widely adopted technology across the entire enterprise.

Over recent years, SDN has gained increased traction in the data centre network (DCN), and WAN, but how can your LAN infrastructure benefit from this move to software define networking? The software defined LAN (SD-LAN) builds on the preceding software-defined principles for the DCN and the WAN, to bring specific benefits of adaptability, flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and scale, while providing mission-critical business continuity to the network access layer. Is it possible to simply apply the same architecture and technologies used in the data centre network to your LAN environment?  The challenge is that the LAN needs to support many different users, with devices that connect on a variety of platforms using different access technologies and depending on time of day, location, geography and various other factors may require different security and connectivity requirements. This is a very difficult challenge that IT and network operations has to work with.  In fact, the majority of IT budgets are spent maintaining service desks to support end-users and network change control.  In addition, in the same way that cloud has impacted the WAN, mobility is driving the significant change in the LAN.  Research indicates that more than 88% of users now connect to the enterprise network using wireless LAN technology. But the utilisation of Wireless LAN technology is not the primary factor driving rapid transformation and the need to change.  The reality is that we have been using Wireless LAN technology in the enterprise for more than twenty years.  The difference today is that the pace of change in Wireless LAN technology is exponential.

Several factors are contributing to this step change:

  • Video and collaboration requires higher bandwidth driving accelerated adoption and refresh to standards like 802.11ac, and emerging standards like Wi-Gig.
  • The internet of things and the sheer explosion of devices and things that that will need to connect wireless or by other wireless technologies BLE, Zigbee, etc. In fact it’s predicted by 2020 more than 40bn new things will need to be connected.  Yes the Internet of Things is very real.

Transformation therefore needs to happen faster than expected and is being driven by a rapidly evolving consumer experience and workforce productivity expectations that are wireless-first or mobile-first.  SD-LAN is defined by an application and policy driven architecture, that decouples hardware and software layers enabling a self-organising, centrally-managed network edge that is simpler to operate, integrate, and scale.

What are the core components that SD-LAN will need to deliver for clients to adopt this technology and SD-LAN move from theory and hype to reality?

  1. Intelligent network fabric
  • Network infrastructure both wired and wireless that provide an intelligent programmable underlay
  • Adaptive and able to scale up and scale out based on demand and capacity
  • Frictionless providing self-healing, self-provisioning, and telemetry
  1. Application optimisation
  • Dynamic and real-time optimisation of the LAN, driven by application priorities, eg. Voice or video
  • Ability to integrate with SD-WAN technology to provide consistent user experience
  • Fine-grained application visibility and control at the network edge
  1. Policy, Identity integrated into the network with analytics
  • Secure, identity-based access for users, devices and things
  • Context-based policy control across LAN and WAN
  • Persona and predictive analytics that allow the network to sense and detect
  • Self-healing security to thwart and mitigate across things, devices and users. 
  1. Extensible platform with open APIs
  • Programmability that enables applications to derive information from the network and enable the network to respond to application requirements
  • An intelligent edge network that leverages the cloud to enable insights from users, devices and things
  • An open developer program to enable an ecosystem of developers, software vendors and MSPs

As this trend continues to emerge, the network technologies will need to evolve to support the requirements of the SD- LAN. For example, Cisco recently announced the launch its new digital network architecture that will form the basis of its SD-LAN portfolio.  Cisco’s new intuitive network is game changing and is set to advance how clients will transform the network edge. New hardware for the campus and branch will become the intelligent fabric and new software for automation and orchestration will include an integrated security, policy and analytics platform that will provide the intelligence around SD-LAN’s.  It’s exciting to see how this technology will continue to roll out and be operated.  The first step in enabling this edge transformation will be understanding how to adopt and ultimately transform the network edge to take advantage of the new technology.

Find out how Dimension Data and Cisco help clients succeed with programmable, automated infrastructure.

Without a doubt, that SD-LAN will offer a significant opportunity to help organisations keep pace with the dynamic, constantly changing network demands that are being brought to bear mobility and the Internet of Things. The principles of SD-LAN are not new, but rather a rethinking and implementation of what technology should and can be delivered today and future business requirements.

SD-LAN isn’t just about solving a problem today, but rather building an IT foundation for the future. SD-LAN is a dramatic shift in how IT departments plan, deploy, and monitor enterprise networks.