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Connectivity in an age where the application is king

23 May 2019
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Article by Versa Networks CMO Atchison Frazer.

The way enterprises manage and control their most essential applications is changing, and approaches to connectivity must adapt to meet this change. The static destination-based routing that has to date been at the heart of wide area networking is no longer good enough in a cloud-centric era when the experience of the application’s user, wherever they may be located, is paramount.

Connectivity today is increasingly about the edge of the network, not the centre, and about the software-defining of the network right up to the edge. This is where digital transformation is really happening - right out at the perimeter of the network. If you want to turn your organisation into a digital enterprise, you need to transform the edge, because that's where all the applications are delivered closest to the user, and where the traffic load is likely to congest. To make this happen takes a whole new approach from the single-transport MPLS-based one that has dominated for decades.

Network managers are starting to face up to this change through the deployment of cloud-native SD-WANs, thus bringing greater levels of application intelligence to business connectivity where it matters. So-called application-aware routing understands the paths applications need to take and provides greater management and control to deliver the adaptive, high-quality experience that users want and expect.

With this model, the balance is altered. Rather than focus on just the network destination, and the complexities thereof, the emphasis is placed upon the application experience. Application-aware routing is all about supporting the intent of the user, and of the enterprise, and prioritising support for how applications actually need to be used and served, based on the business policies the enterprise has prescribed.

SD-WAN is all about using active and passive monitoring of the fabric to dynamically track path and network characteristics, quality factors like packet loss, latency, jitter, load, bandwidth capacity and circuit cost. It offers a way to leverage the information it collects between edge and branch locations, and deterministically directs application flows along the most optimal network paths that meets the business intent.

Application-aware routing directs traffic based upon an application’s predetermined SLA and user-defined application profiles. Traffic is automatically sent to WAN links that have the required network characteristics and path conditions to support these applications in real-time.

There are multiple advantages from application-aware routing. These include lower bandwidth costs, because traffic is more efficiently balanced among the diverse circuits. Application performance is increased, without having to upgrade bandwidth. IT management and monitoring are simplified through the automation of dynamic traffic steering. And application reliability and consistency are achieved, by dynamically routing traffic among diversity of circuits, including broadband and wireless, to ensure application experience parameters are met.

Rather than simply directing traffic based on routing protocols, the right SD-WAN solution can identify, classify and secure traffic based on the application ID. Enterprises need this kind of software-led approach, one that lets them set up application-intelligent VPNs and connectivity with minimal configuration. For example, a site-to-site full-mesh VPN topology can be cost-effectively and quickly deployed, to deliver the highest levels of redundancy, which supports latency-sensitive applications like voice and video. Hub-and-spoke VPN topologies can also be set up to support Point-of-Sale or electronic medical-record applications for compliance purposes, to ensure those services are routed through a secure hub site.

SD-WAN that is designed for the cloud abstracts application awareness and intelligence from the underlying network infrastructure, enabling enforceable policies to be applied based on application experience to create a business intelligent WAN. SD-WAN can lower bandwidth costs and reduce network operations costs, while delivering the network agility and reliable connectivity enterprises require. 

Not all SD-WAN solutions are truly application-aware, let alone geared to maximise the user experience. To achieve the full benefits that a business intelligent WAN can provide, only an application-aware solution that optimizes the user experience will suffice. Enterprises need to be looking at network solutions that are software and cloud-defined for the entire infrastructure that you typically find in the wide area, in the branch office or remote location.

The right kind of SD-WAN solution will encompass all of the traditional network functions that typically involve multiple edge devices from many disparate vendors and manage them as virtual functions in the one piece of software. Within this software stack will be contextual visibility between the all-important intersection of security and the performance of the network.

What organisations should be looking for is an SD-WAN solution that is built for the real-time app and multi-cloud era, with programmable including security fully embedded in the core architecture.