What You Need to Know for SD-WAN Testing

SD-WANAs companies begin hearing about software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) and contemplate deploying the approach in their environments, there are numerous questions that arise surrounding testing. Every SD-WAN provider lists a variety of features, and it’s important to test those features before making a final decision or attempting to implement.

Here are the areas you should test when running your proof of concept (POC):

Path selection: One of the reasons you’re likely to be considering SD-WAN is its ability to split traffic between dedicated links (which cost more) and low-cost internet virtual private networks (VPNs). It’s not easy for SD-WAN to distinguish between mission-critical and less important traffic, but doing so is important for you in terms of cost savings. Each vendor features its own algorithms for making these determinations, so make sure the provider you’re considering has the capability to support the path selection needs of your company.

Scalability: What will your SD-WAN needs be as your company grows? Do you plan to employ a hub-and-spoke model or will your network be full mesh? Full mesh networks require a different level of complexity when it comes to network support, so make sure your SD-WAN is prepared to grow with you.

Failover: SD-WAN is a good choice because it offers failover capabilities in the event of a link outage. What’s more challenging is determining a true link outage from a momentary pause (which happens frequently) or a high level of packet drops. Your testing should include link outage failover response as well as determination of how a particular SD-WAN handles heavy congestion, momentary outages, and a variety of packet loss rates.

Application performance: Testing application performance is important, particularly if you’re counting on SD-WAN to provide application acceleration. You need to test under real-world conditions to experience how the network will affect the end user’s experience. Acceleration improvement rests heavily on network conditions, latency, jitter, and loss, so take time to test whether your applications will experience acceleration with an SD-WAN solution.

Usability: The POC of your choice for SD-WAN should include heavy usability testing. Practice the activities you conduct on a daily basis to see how responsive and user-friendly it is for you. Try adding and removing users, installing new SD-WAN locations, changing application parameters and reconfiguring nodes for existing locations.

The surge in interest for SD-WAN means there are many providers offering similar services. Before you make a decision, take time to thoroughly test your final candidates. Whether you’re just getting started or are nearing the testing phase, give Focal Solutions a call. We can help you navigate the sometimes confusing world of SD-WAN and guide you to a decision that supports your company and its growth.

The Move from Centralized WAN Design

WANThe design for wide area network (WAN) is currently adapting to new requirements for networks, so the typical hub-and-spoke configuration is making way for other alternatives. There are many factors driving a change in WAN design, but two have had the most impact:

  1. The migration to cloud software for applications and data storage
  2. Software as a Service (SaaS), cloud-based apps, and managed services all require a WAN configuration that reduces latency and improves speed and performance

With the need for quicker connections and better performance, there are currently three main designs for WAN:

  • Centralized internet access (in this case, firewalls, authentication, and other security features are in the single WAN access point)
  • Decentralized internet access (this is known as “every site for itself”)
  • Regionalized internet access

Overall, the trend is moving away from a centralized design, except in those cases where a company is geographically localized and is primarily using on-site software solutions.

The Implications of a Decentralized WAN Design

While it’s easy to understand the desire for a direct connection to the internet for branches to increase speed and efficiency and improve business processes, a decentralized WAN design presents other challenges for IT teams. Managing security and firewalls is more difficult and expensive when there are multiple entry points for accessing the internet.

A centralized WAN design has some benefits when it comes to security, including the requirement for all traffic to back-haul to your centralized network before going out to the internet.

Regionalization

Many enterprises are adopting what’s called regionalized internet access, in which they gain some of the benefits of centralized and decentralized designs. In this model, there are generally two variations used: hub routers in colocation sites or virtual hub routers in the cloud.

One benefit of using hub routers in the colocation sites is that end users appreciate a fast connection to the internet with an inexpensive price tag. The alternative is simply the virtual equivalent of this system, with virtual hub routers in the cloud. There are a few challenges for this method, including limitations in performance, the ability to access inter-cloud provider connections, and potential fees for egress traffic from cloud providers.

With a regional connection, you still have some of the latency that comes with a centralized WAN design, but it’s spread out between multiple locations. As a result, speed is not as big of a problem and performance is reliable.

As comprehensive consultants, Focal Solutions works with you through every step of your technology plan, from choosing a network configuration to determining which applications are best hosted in the cloud. We’ll make sure speed and performance never suffer while reducing your overall IT costs. Give us a call to talk more.

Why SDN Needs to Emphasize Network Security More

Network SecurityThe next generation of networking includes software defined networking (SDN), as network controls shift from hardware to software. It’s the result of merging multiple devices into one controller, which empowers the user to control an entire network. It’s a giant leap in the evolution of administrative control, but developers must still face network security challenges for this new technology.

Control Plane Concerns

The main concern that users should have about SDN at this stage is that the control plane can be compromised. A separate issue involves the scalability of the control plane. If a hacker is able to gain access to the control plane, they can potentially control the entire network. Another part of the risk involves how easy it is to misconfigure architecture due to the flexible nature of the software.

SDN as a Networking Solution

Despite the network security issues, SDN is quickly becoming a solution for overcoming modern networking problems. One of the reasons for this trend is that it allows for maintenance dry-out. It also answers several other technical issues. The network is set up to respond to its own threats. The problem is that new product developers are not spending enough time working out security issues.

More Than a Buzz Word

SDN is still not clearly defined, which adds to the uncertainty surrounding network security. Many people have used SDN as a buzz word, as different companies such as Cisco have their own definition of it. Various vendors are defining it based on how it fits their existing product lines. Even though SDN is supposed to make a network more consistent, its ambiguity creates confusion.

SDN is not really a new development, but it has the feel of new technology since all the bugs have yet to be worked out. Developers also need to work on making the technology more stable. What’s more, there aren’t many SDN specialists yet, as networking or data center teams have been left in charge of it.

Industry leaders warn that teams using SDN must be careful about hardware rules concerning switches. They also point to multiple layers of security as the safest solution, whether the business uses SDN or not. One of the major benefits of SDN technology is that it allows for fast reconfiguration.

Conclusion

Businesses that have quickly adopted SDN to resolve networking solutions need to consider that this technology still has network security issues. SDN will become more efficient once more focus is put into making the solution more secure. It is becoming widely used due to the simplicity of consolidating all controls into one controller.

SD-WAN: Combining Intuitive Connectivity, Monitoring, and Provision for Superior Network Performance

SD-WANCompanies today must be able to transact business securely in order to stay ahead of competitors and build a reputation for excellence, and business architectures are changing to meet these new demands. Wide area networks (WAN) offer the ability to connect branch offices and data centers across large geographical areas. When combined with software-defined networking (SDN) technologies which are delivered through the cloud, a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) delivers effective tools that enterprises can safely deploy to retain and expand their profitability.

Virtual private networks (VPN) that are contained in a cloud environment offer cost reductions, improved network management, and an effective user experience for employees and customers alike. This same technology applies to broadband internet connections, increasing their security. Instead of purchasing capital intensive WAN technologies like multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), the migration to SD-WAN provides layer-2 and layer-3 switching possibilities through VPN, optimization, network as a service (NaaS), and application policy and delivery controls.

 

How It Works

SD-WAN technology uses secure broadband connections to replace more expensive legacy technologies. Routing hardware is exchanged using specific provisioning and connectivity through cloud software, which enables companies to scale up during times of peak demand. Security is assured through VPN, and businesses can deploy additional optimization through application policy and provision controls.

For enterprises that now rely on some type of public, private, or hybrid cloud model (that included on-premises servers), SD-WAN delivers effective methods for managing and optimizing the mix of MLPS, Ethernet, cable, and DSL that originates from a variety of local access providers.

 

Business Benefits

Because of its cost to benefit ratio, SD-WAN use is expected to rise rapidly over the next few years. By automating the configuration of edge routers and channeling traffic to less expensive broadband use, businesses like retailers, restaurant chains, and bank franchises find easier ways to manage hundreds of small sites and create cost-effective bandwidth to access cloud storage and applications, all while ensuring security and performance. Network performance results include:

  • Lower Cost—By employing more broadband and fewer private links, the endpoint monitoring automatically provisions packet deliveries using the most efficient configuration for the least cost.
  • Decreased Complexity—Routing protocols choose the best method and stick with it, and they won’t react to packet loss or congested links without external manipulation. SD-WAN dynamically routes traffic according to immediate network conditions. It’s still complex, but there’s less work required to maintain optimum performance.
  • Increased Flexibility—This technology allows businesses to utilize the most cost-effective form of path calculation. Mission critical or SLA-bound applications are routed through the virtual MPLS, which also manages bandwidth consumption, while other apps, backup WAN, and traffic without asymmetric routing can be transmitted through less expensive public cloud.

SD-WAN services better align enterprise networks for optimum performance. By delivering secure, business class connections using cloud-based WAN in a software-defined environment, companies receive better performance, security, and provisioning without the high costs of legacy hardware.

Cloud-Based Unified Communications: Maximizing Deployment Strategies

Building a unified communications (UC) solution in the cloud is widely lauded as a one-time-fix-all for businesses. According to Transparency Market Research, this “as a Service” model has an impressive compound annual growth rate, logging a whopping 23%, with expectations reaching almost $38 billion by 2022. However, there’s more involved in the construction of the platform than simply adopting a cloud-based UC infrastructure.

To ensure that their UC solution is effective, companies must examine the entire equation. UC includes a variety of technologies, and the full gamut of those interdependent systems must be analyzed before measurable results can be realized using the cloud.

Cloud-based UC offers an excellent avenue for lowering costs, but there are five key areas that businesses should consider in order to develop a comprehensive strategy. When making the transition, businesses must coordinate effective collaboration between the technologies that influence voice quality, availability, and end-user adoption. Primary considerations include:

  1. Network Planning—Extending network capabilities to the cloud means that companies need to ensure that acceptable bandwidth has been provisioned to prioritize voice traffic. Service providers can easily perform this, but if making the change in-house, personnel will need to account for the new flows, quality of service configurations, and existing service contracts.
  2. Management Considerations—There are many components involved in voice transmissions, and network stability depends on having the right tools, measurements, and visibility to ensure uncompromised service delivery. When cloud-based UC is utilized, specific monitoring software should be included as well. SMBs with limited IT staff can overcome this challenge by contracting with a qualified service provider to augment personnel and expertise.
  3. Existing Infrastructure—While creating UC in the cloud is relatively easy for new businesses, those that operate with large quantities of legacy hardware and multiple site locations should consider expert assistance to conduct a monitored, scheduled transition.
  4. End-User Acceptance—No matter how well developed, if a UC cloud solution doesn’t meet end-user needs, the cost reductions and advantages won’t have an impact on the business. Enterprises need to examine how their current users conduct day-to-day operations, and tailor UC training to address those specific needs.
  5. Security and Compliance—Transitioning UC to the cloud creates additional security and compliance concerns. Service delivery constraints for multi-national customers and industry specific data regulations combined with a myriad of telephony laws and compliance restrictions make cloud-based UC data security complex, to say the least. However, a qualified service provider should be able to navigate the realms of requirements and deliver a secure solution.

Cloud-based UC will deliver cost savings and improved efficiency. Businesses just need to view the solution as a comprehensive strategy to ensure the attainment of measurable results.

Embracing SDN: Understanding the Advantages and Challenges of New Network Technology

Software defined networking (SDN) is transforming business infrastructure models. The ability to support multiple technologies through redefined network architecture offers businesses superior networking capacities at a significantly lower cost than traditional hardware-based models. The results provide companies with real answers for improving network security, scalability, and performance, regardless of size.

However, this new method of increasing network efficiency also presents new challenges for network managers concerning those very same areas.

SDN offers businesses practical opportunities for responding to the emerging demand for personal IT services, while simultaneously providing realistic support and responsiveness for user needs. Yet deploying this flexible, more modern network architecture without compromising the reliability of legacy network performance requires a new approach to ensure that the exchange of digital information is more efficient than ever.

Growth Trends

The modern data center, with virtualized servers and advanced storage capabilities, has outlined SDN parameters. Open standards allow SDN-enabled hardware control policies to be individualized, and a centrally managed, programmable network allows for maximum business efficiency. Market analyst IHS, Inc. reports that SDN revenues grew over 80% in 2015, and experts predict that that trend will continue.

These revenues indicate that within the next few years, more and more enterprise networks will become virtualized, eventually generating a completely new environment for network managers. Data centers based on software constructs will necessitate skills in storage, server, and virtual infrastructure.

Challenges

Adapting to new technology can be a challenge, especially when dealing with a highly dynamic, increasingly distributed infrastructure. Network managers can address those difficulties by examining the issues and developing actionable solutions.

  • Security—Coding is an essential aspect of SDN, but it also presents one of the biggest challenges for network managers. New network applications can unwittingly introduce security threats that extend throughout the network, from either a centralized or partially distributed controller.
  • Scalability—Bottlenecks can still happen with software constructs, particularly with certain high-use controllers. Managers can overcome the difficulty by splitting control planes, but it requires a keen awareness of potential convergence and configuration requirements.
  • Performance—Maintaining controller response times and preventing latency can be difficult when transitioning legacy data environments to SDN. Network managers must develop their skills for managing and generating virtual functions and services, but also learn specific programming for building platforms and automation in a policy-based architecture.

SDN is delivering actionable opportunities for businesses that need to increase the agility and flexibility of their networks to meet the demands of today’s dynamic marketplace. However, the changes will redefine network management responsibilities, so companies need to be prepared.

Ensuring Effective Network Performance: Capacity Planning 101

Nothing is as frustrating for employees or customers as ridiculously slow access or latency during important calls. These problems result from inadequate bandwidth, and most organizations approach network capability planning by either apportioning more bandwidth than is needed or suffering from problems during high-traffic times.

Essentially, network performance is dictated by throughput and capacity. To ensure sufficient capability, businesses must first understand where the problems originate, and then develop a workable solution to mitigate them.

 Bottlenecking Issues

The enterprise technologies used to perform daily tasks siphon bandwidth depending on usage. When higher numbers of users increase traffic across the network, either through wired or wireless access, users experience lags in throughput. Some of the biggest culprits include:

  • Software Tools and Applications—Warehouse management, customer relationship management (CRM), and enterprise resource management (ERP) systems record, process, and analyze large amounts of data from a variety of sources, often in real-time.
  • Cloud Computing—Cloud storage, backup, and sharing, whether through the public or private cloud, consume high levels of bandwidth because of the large volumes of data being transferred.
  • Mobility—Mobile access is enabling improved communication and productivity for organizations, but supporting all those remote devices places a drain on network performance.
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)—Enhanced mobility, better, more reliable communications, videos, and live streaming provide superior tools for work tasks, but they also require large bandwidth.

 Pinpointing Traffic and Bandwidth Requirements

Before upgrading infrastructure, companies need a visible outline of where and when traffic volumes across the network are creating problems. Simply increasing total bandwidth is cost prohibitive because organizations end up paying for more than is actually required.

To understand bandwidth needs, companies should examine these areas:

  • Core Network Traffic—Determine exactly how much bandwidth is required to perform core tasks.
  • Other Traffic—This includes internal connections, data transfers to and from cloud applications, and communication packets.
  • Source and Destination—The distance from the origin site to the destination impacts bandwidth consumption.

 Measuring for Success

Once traffic requirements are identified, organizations are in a position to apportion and assign bandwidth accordingly. The most cost-effective solution involves leveraging on-demand bandwidth, which offers the ability to curtail and increase bandwidth in relation to usage requirements and predictions.

First, determine the average rate of transfer relative to current bandwidth. Immediate upgrades will be necessary if the current megabits per second (Mbps) or gigabits per second (Gbps) are inadequate for the amount of throughput required. Then ascertain additional needs during peak times.

By developing effective capacity planning that is designed to ensure reliable performance, companies can maintain business productivity and user satisfaction.

Getting Ready for the Future of Cloud Technology

shutterstock_97642988Cloud technology is constantly evolving, giving enterprises the ability to make business operations more efficient than they’ve ever been. Employees working on opposite ends of the globe can communicate effortlessly with each other. Recent developments in cloud services have ultimately improved overall productivity in the workplace, providing high-performance platforms for many different types of business operations. As this technology continues to develop over time, it’s important for businesses to prepare for the upcoming changes.

Following are some of the developments most likely to come to fruition as the cloud evolves.

The Importance of Hybrid Cloud

Because of its customizability, one development that should remain relevant in the near future is hybrid cloud technology. The hybrid cloud meets the requirements of a wide range of businesses and allows for multiple private line carriers to connect to data centers at once. The flexibility of this technology means that enterprises are likely to continue to use it in the years to come.

Security Developments

While cloud service security isn’t as much of a concern as it has been in the past, there are still many security risks that can severely compromise networks. Security companies are continually developing better ways to maintain effective protection against new risks that can result in data leakage and other problems. One of the biggest changes in security is the development of software-defined systems, which stems from the ability to define storage systems, networks, and other elements located on servers in the form of software.

Security is equally important for employees and cloud service providers. Company employees can each have their own logins and other identifying credentials integrated into systems to prevent unauthorized access, preventing the exploitation of private data. These newer security developments will help further protect sensitive company data and provide reassurance for employees and business owners.

Improved Network Support

In order to stay up to date with cloud technology and other aspects of its network, it’s important for a company to have access to necessary information and updates. This will allow a business to further increase productivity while reducing overall expenses. Unfortunately, without the right network support, businesses can’t take advantage of these potential updates. Businesses should make sure their wide area network (WAN) is capable of providing this support.

Without proper support, issues such as decreased performance due to heavy network traffic could remain problematic. Companies should prepare for any potential risk of decreased efficiency and other issues by ensuring that their network is fully supported at all times.

These are some of the many ways that businesses need to prepare for the future of cloud technology. More and more companies are beginning to fully realize the necessity of this technology in their business operations. In order to get the most out of available technology, it’s necessary for enterprises to keep up with trends, receive the proper support, and update security measures as the landscape changes.