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Bringing a DevOps Mentality to NetOps with SD-WAN

Mason Coffman
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Organizations worldwide are embracing DevOps to accelerate their digital initiatives. Faster software development means new features are quickly placed into the hands of customers, creating a competitive advantage and, ultimately, more sales.

To achieve these goals, DevOps practitioners focus on automating as much of the software release pipeline as possible. Similar levels of automation and programmability are starting to make their way into the networking side of the house, as NetOps teams seek highly agile, flexible network designs to keep pace with digital business demands.

Today's networks are complex, insecure, and unpredictable

Today’s networks are often complex, unpredictable, and negate cloud-era demands for increased agility.

This shift is important, as legacy networking architectures and tooling weren’t designed for today’s cloud- and digital-centric world. For example, even a small configuration change can take weeks to implement globally, due to the manual handwringing of making changes router by router using CLI commands.

In addition, network teams have historically desired control and stability, as the primary goal is to ensure resilient, highly available networks. That goal won’t change moving forward, but traditional management tools often introduce human error, which can have a cascading effect on application and network performance, or even cause an outage.

The rise of software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) is eliminating these inefficiencies by providing a radically simplistic way to design, deploy, and manage networks. Just as important, IT organizations adopting SD-WAN are finding that the operational agility gained through SD-WAN is allowing the network to play an equal part in DevOps and continuous delivery pipelines.

Centralized policy orchestration and automation closes the agility divide

Say the DevOps team is planning to roll-out a new application or an upgrade. Making the necessary changes to security policies, QoS parameters, and other network configuration settings through a device-centric approach is tedious. Findings from ZK Research show that even a minor configuration change can take four weeks when implemented router by router, which potentially puts application deployments behind schedule.

This is where the automation and orchestration power of SD-WAN can help. Policies governing access, security, and performance are managed centrally and automatically pushed out to all devices and sites across the network as IT makes changes. Moreover, existing policies can be reused across applications or for new sites needing to connect to an application, without needing to make wholesale changes to the underlying infrastructure. Lastly, those policies follow users wherever they connect, granting them anywhere-access to applications and business services without compromising security measures.

What once took weeks to make necessary networking changes in advance of a new application roll-out can now be done—securely and reliably—in a matter of a few minutes. Better yet, with SteelConnect, Riverbed’s SD-WAN solution, network visibility is integrated right into the technology, allowing IT to close the loop by quickly validating that policies are properly enforced across the network. Even during high rates of change, NetOps can ensure network integrity and compliance.

Intent-based management puts NetOps, DevOps, and app owners on the same page

Traditional network management tools have forced network engineers to require detailed knowledge of IP address schemes, access control lists, and other complex networking parameters. And while that knowledge and the associated skills have served networking teams well in the past, a technology gap remains: being able to easily translate application or business requirements into actual networking resources.

An SD-WAN solution greatly simplifies this process by bridging the gap between business needs and IT capabilities through intent-based change management. For instance, with SteelConnect, app owners state their requirements in natural language with reference to apps, users, and locations, and SteelConnect’s cloud-based management console takes care of the rest: a menu-driven workflow automatically translates business concepts into the proper policies and operational rules.

SteelConnect makes it easy to translate business requirements into the right network policies and resources.

SteelConnect makes it easy to translate business requirements into the right network policies and resources.

SD-WAN dramatically improves service quality, another hallmark of DevOps

DevOps not only emphasizes accelerated development of new software features, but also improved service delivery and better user experiences. Riverbed SteelConnect SD-WAN contributes to that goal on the networking side through the following capabilities:

  • Deep packet inspection: Automatically identifies more than 2,000 frequently used apps and enforces policies that determine line speed and path selection
  • Intelligent path selection: Ensures apps continue to take the optimal link by dynamically steering traffic over an alternate path if the primary experiences an outage or congestion
  • Application acceleration: When bottlenecks occur, WAN optimization dramatically improves performance by reducing bandwidth consumption and the impact of chatty protocols
  • Network visibility: Provides IT with powerful analytics to make faster, more informed decisions about future capacity and design needs, critical for ongoing improvement efforts

SD-WAN: not just for network teams, but also DevOps practitioners?

As IT teams continue to break down silos, there’s an increased incentive to used shared tooling and processes. For DevOps and NetOps, the automation inherent in an SD-WAN solution is proving to be a rallying point.

Here’s an example: DevOps teams may need access to more cloud infrastructure to accelerate development and testing of upcoming releases. But waiting days or weeks to get a VPN connection to new cloud instances is no longer acceptable. This is an especially pressing matter in smaller-to-medium-sized organizations that have limited networking staff to address developer demands.

But again, SD-WAN can come to the rescue, as evidenced in this Riverbed case study on OpenEye Scientific, where the DevOps team can establish new connections to AWS in mere minutes with SteelConnect, while also ensuring customer traffic and data are securely isolated.

Learn more about SD-WAN and take a test drive

Gone are the days of manual network configuration and policy management. For NetOps teams to better serve the needs of digital businesses, they must adopt some DevOps principles of their own. SD-WAN is an integral means of doing so—closing the agility divide between developers, networking teams, and the lines of business they serve.

To learn more about SD-WAN for DevOps, access the following resources below. Or, try our SteelConnect SD-WAN solution for yourself.

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