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How SD-LAN Is Changing the LAN Landscape

By Mathew Edwards in · Technology · June 15, 2017
In my last post, I looked at what a SD-LAN entails of. In this final post, I look at how the implementation of SD-LAN is going to change the LAN (and WLAN) forever.

The common theme around IT departments at the end of the calendar year is budgeting and upgrades. It can be difficult to gauge the future “theme” that the organization will tackle, but implementing SD-LAN today means the future is now. Even if the feature of SD-LAN aren’t something you need today, they will provide the building blocks for the future of whatever needs may arise. SD-LAN isn’t just about solving a problem today, but rather building an IT foundation for the future.

Just how can SD-LAN help your organization—how do its specific features specially serve your needs? By basing core implementations and policies in software, network shops can realize enhanced configurability, scalability, continuity, and simplified operations while unlocking value beyond connectivity.Software as a Service delivery via the cloud helps companies eliminate the expense of purchasing or maintaining expensive application servers and software.

Increased operational efficiency

SD-LAN implementations are self-optimizing, self-organizing, self-reorganizing, self-configuring, and self-reconfiguring in response to changing conditions. This limits the day-to-day work of the operations staff largely to policy management and occasional troubleshooting and end-user assistance—which should increase staff productivity.

A single management interface for wired and wireless domains and unified network policies with device templates allow IT to configure any number of Wi-Fi devices and access switches. Access switches have dramatically different requirements than those at the core. The edge is getting more geographically spread out—with more users, more devices, and more locations.

Cumbersome command-line interface (CLI) doesn’t work for edge switches anymore; these require easy, UI-based centralized cloud management and unified wired/wireless policies.

Reducing capital and operational cost

The removal of WLAN controller hardware and licensing can lead to dramatic cost savings—with- out loss of functionality. It can result in significantly lower relative capital expenditure (CapEx), reduction in footprint and associated operational expenditure (OpEx), simplified architecting and installation of access points, ease of ongoing management, and increased solution resiliency and user productivity improvements. With labor intensive OpEx rapidly outpacing CapEx in today’s business environments, SD-LAN offers lower TCO through its cloud-based management. “Let’s face it—operations staff still require all the productivity they can muster; budgets and staffing levels aren’t going back to the pre-recession days, so this is where SD-LAN could conceivably really close the deal,” writes Craig J. Mathias, a principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm that specializes in wireless networking and mobile IT.

Increased scale and flexibility

Software as a Service delivery via the cloud helps companies eliminate the expense of purchasing or maintaining expensive application servers and software. With SD-LAN, this pay-as-you-grow model ensures organizations have the flexibility to scale their networks to match business growth. The cloud management platform scales to support the management and monitoring of thousands of devices from a single console with minimal overhead. Scaling is as easy as adding or removing additional access points and switches, which greatly simplifies network planning and development.

Planning for change

In dense deployments, such as when access points are in adjacent rooms, administrators may have to switch off their 2.4 GHz radios on every second or third access point to reduce interference. With the adaptive access layer that has software-definable radios, administrators can switch that second radio to 5 GHz, effectively increasing capacity—future-proofing the purchase and ensuring immediate ROI.

An application-optimized network ensures systems like CRM and financial get the necessary quality of service. Cloud management, a must-have in today’s business environment, allows IT to more easily manage thousands of access points, switches, sites, end users, and devices—and benefits organizations in operation costs and deployment speed for years to come.

Granular network protection

SD-LAN’s granularity digs down to the level of individual users and devices and provides insights on location, time of day, and user role. It also includes capabilities important in local operational policies such as BYOD, guess access, and support for IoT. Profile-based management and security implemented at the edge of the network helps minimize risk to the organization. SD-LAN can leverage local authentication mechanisms to determine authorization and encryption keys. Security is single-point- of-control system-wide uniformity, which makes it easier to respond to security threats.

Identity-driven SD-LAN allows administrators to apply ingrained security policies to individual users on the guest network, complementing the authentication method already in use in the corporate network—a huge bene t for organizations that typically use a single guest SSID with a common pre-shared key that can be compromised. That identity-driven process also creates greater security. With software-defined private pre-shared keys and application visibility and control (AVC) with custom signatures that can be created to monitor apps and apply firewall rules at the access layer, SD-LAN confronts the security concerns created by IoT.

Value beyond connectivity

Location and presence APIs provide tangible benefits in retail, manufacturing, and logistics. Monitoring APIs allow MSPs to offer Wi-Fi as a service and add value with customized network-management dashboards. For schools and colleges, APIs can create easy guest onboarding and sponsorship workflow that are integrated into student and faculty IT portals, making self-serve IT a reality. APIs can be configured for the present and can be added in the future, leading to a truly programmable, future-proof access network. 

In summary, SD-LAN offers the following benefits:

1) Reduced complexity—Automation, policy, and simplicity are applied to operations, bringing big savings in cost, improved reliability, and much more.

2) Reduced costs—Going beyond improved productivity of your IT team, SD-LAN makes the networks themselves smarter and uses control and management tools to simplify network administrators’ lives.

3) App visibility and control—SD-LAN is a source of data for analytics, such as understanding what apps are doing on the network. SD-LAN can then use this information in conjunction with policies to tune app behavior automatically.

4) Policy-based management—It’s significantly easier to change policies in SD-LAN than it is to whip out the CLI, as well as more cost effective, reliable, and secure.

Without a doubt, SD-LAN offers a strong solution to help your organization keep pace with the dynamic, constantly changing network demands brought on by surging mobility and the Internet of Things. SD-LAN isn’t new technology for technology-sake, but rather a rethinking of what network management should look like in 2017 and beyond.

Like we said earlier, 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.

Mathew Edwards (@Mobility_Mat)

Mat is Manager, Product Marketing at Aerohive where he helps drive strategy and vision for Aerohive's wireless LAN solutions.