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SD-Branch: Evolving enterprise networks for 5G, IoT and the cloud

Enterprises have embraced SD-WAN as a go-to solution for automating and simplifying their wide area networks. SD-WAN enhances application performance, improves network efficiency and centralizes policy management. It also provides more flexibility to use software-defined branch (SD-Branch) solutions to address the changing needs of branch offices, which increasingly rely on digital technologies.

WAN traffic flows are changing

The move toward digitalization is creating new traffic flows and compelling enterprises to look for alternatives to traditional hub-and-spoke WAN architectures. These architectures focus on enabling branch employees to connect to centralized resources inside the WAN. They also support secondary traffic that flows to external cloud, SaaS or internet resources.

In digitally transformed enterprises, the primary traffic flow is outside the WAN. Branches can talk to one another, to headquarters or to a variety of outside resources. This any-to-any communication creates a more complex mix of traffic. Many enterprises are turning to mesh-based WAN architectures to handle it.

Not all SD-WAN solutions are equal

SD-WAN 1.0 helped enterprises start their digital journey by providing secure, automated branch connectivity over any IP transport. But use cases have evolved quickly, and SD-WAN 1.0 can’t meet the needs of digital enterprises in key areas such as multi-cloud connectivity, value-added services support and security.

SD-WAN 2.0 closes these gaps by extending branch connectivity to public and private clouds, enabling the flexible addition of SD-Branch functions and expanding security beyond basic perimeter protection. It also provides single-pane-of-glass management that extends across the WAN and into any cloud. These capabilities give enterprises a platform for assimilating and delivering SD-Branch functions, futureproofing for Industry 4.0 applications and avoiding the high costs of siloed network stacks.

The SD-Branch opportunity

SD-Branch presents an opportunity to make enterprise networks more flexible, agile and manageable through the use of virtualized, containerized or cloud-hosted functions. SD-WAN 2.0 makes SD-Branch a reality by enabling branch functions to be embedded with customer premises equipment (CPE) software or hosted as virtual or container network functions on SD-WAN CPE or deployed in the cloud and delivered as a service to each branch.

To take full advantage of SD-Branch, enterprises need a unified management and policy model that is flexible enough to support all these deployment approaches. This model must also give enterprises the freedom to choose from the vast range of possible SD-Branch functions and deploy these functions where and how they are needed.

Choosing an SD-WAN platform

No one vendor provides best-in-class solutions across all SD-Branch and SD-WAN functions. Enterprises should try to choose an open, industry-standard SD-WAN platform or managed service that will allow them to mix and match functions to deliver the SD-Branch solutions their business requires.

Open, x86-based SD-Branch gateway platforms can support a flexible approach that enables enterprises to use embedded functions, hosted VNFs and cloud functions as needed. This approach will give enterprises the widest possible range of deployment options for each branch, in contrast to the vendor lock-in associated with proprietary router, firewall or WAN optimization appliances.

Extending the branch with 5G and IoT

SD-WAN 2.0 is still evolving. 5G and IoT in particular are creating new requirements for SD-WAN and enterprise networking. For example, 5G provides a framework for application awareness at all tiers of the network. It also supports the deployment of high-bandwidth, low-latency applications close to end users and the creation of network slices that extend from users to the cloud.

5G can also offer an alternative to fixed network WAN links. An enterprise could augment its primary WAN links with high-speed 5G mobile broadband or replace the primary wired WAN with 5G, which can meet the same service-level agreements while supporting the mobile office.

Enterprises that have deployed private 4G LTE networks for Industry 4.0 transformation could take the next step and introduce 5G to provide high-speed, ultra-low latency networking for new automation use cases. This calls for SD-WAN 2.0 solutions that can provide policy-based controls to support internet breakouts and extend connectivity into the cloud.

IoT adds a further dimension to the enterprise WAN by requiring connections for sensors and things. It creates new requirements relating to application hosting, security, analytics, routing and forwarding that SD-Branch and SD-WAN platforms must undertake.

IoT devices and mobile users that connect from outside the enterprise network represent a complex challenge that has traditionally been siloed and separate from the enterprise WAN. But now it is possible to extend SD-WAN 2.0 with common user and application policy all the way to these external endpoints so that they can be subjected to the same policy controls as an employee’s wired workstation in a branch.

Learn more

Watch this webinar to learn more about how SD-WAN 2.0 and SD-Branch technologies can help enterprises accelerate their digital transformation and get the most from 5G, IoT and the cloud.


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