SD-WAN. Oversimplified.


Technology can be extremely complex. And while software and hardware developers strive to improve the features and usability of their applications and services, often increased complexity doesn’t always translate to better usability.

SD-WAN. Oversimplified. - circuit board

Smartphones are a great example. As the race to faster and better continues, manufacturers are packing their devices with options that I would guess a majority of users would never use.

We are all creatures of habit and most of us tend to stay in that “safe zone” of things that we truly understand. Adoption takes time and occurs only when the benefits outweigh the perceived risks.

When I approach technology, I try to understand it so that I can explain it in an oversimplified way. This approach may not work for those wanting to get “in the weeds” with technical jargon or engineering-esque diagrams. But for those wanting to understand a term or concept better, at least initially, it often helps to provide more simplistic examples, metaphors, or similes to make the concept stick.

If you can explain the concept to someone else, perhaps a less-technical person in this case, and they actually understand it, that means you understand it (unless of course you completely miss the mark, but that’s another story altogether).

With my work at Riverbed, I’m surrounded by technical experts. I take lots of notes and ask a lot of stupid or obvious questions (a thing I learned in school). Only through dialog and asking questions can you truly learn. And as you learn, you must make concepts personal enough to truly understand them.

Understanding SD-WAN

SD-WAN. Oversimplified. - map

Let’s take a look at the concept of the software-defined wide area network (“SD-WAN” for short). Many of my colleagues have written wonderful articles explaining this technology. Take Mark Woods’ article, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About SD-WAN Architecture (But Were Afraid to Ask).” This humorous, yet informative piece dives into many of the key elements to know about when approaching SD-WAN.

Or give Vivek Ganti’s post, “Make Networking Great Again? Sure, I’m with SD-WAN,” a read as it provides a more technical explanation with real-world scenarios on the old way of configuring WANs using command line interface (CLI) versus the new, easy way using SD-WAN and network policies.

And there is Akshay Kakar’s, “SD-WAN: A Brief Introduction,” which outlines how SD-WAN saves the day with capabilities designed to simplify WAN management.

Each of these articles provides different perspectives on and insights into the important capabilities of SD-WAN and the solutions it provides.

But I wanted to take a step back and talk about SD-WAN from a potentially oversimplified standpoint. I would like to offer two, real-world examples.

Networking at home

If you are the family “tech expert” (a hat I happen to wear), you will undoubtedly be asked to fix technology issues affecting the family. Visits to parents’ homes frequently are met with “our Wi-Fi isn’t working” or “the printer isn’t connected.” Or, perhaps, you have smaller kids and need an easy way to regulate their online time and activities.

SD-WAN. Oversimplified. - networking at home

Unfortunately, consumer devices and services seem to be well behind the capabilities available to enterprises when it comes to managing networks. There are individual or point solutions available for managing networks within a specific home. But again, wouldn’t visits to the family be much better if they were truly that? Visits and not tech support calls?

And wouldn’t it be nice to manage your entire family’s extended network, regardless of location, from the comfort of your browser at your own home? Oh, and while you’re at it, configure your kids’ Internet activities and policies?

Or what if your children have families of their own? Wouldn’t it be nice to ship them a device, have them just plug it in, and suddenly have those same rules and policies automatically configured?

This is what SD-WAN can do for companies. And it can do it now. Policy definition. Remote deployment of networking rules. Easy-to-configure-and-understand network and Wi-Fi settings. Ship and auto-configure networking devices. Single-pane-of-glass management of all connected locations. Remote troubleshooting capabilities. And that’s just the beginning.

Just think if this type of solution were available to consumers (and families). Visits become about people again. Precious time could be served in more advantageous ways and not rewiring and configuring systems. Ah, the good life.

Brick & mortar versus click & deliver

Another example comes to mind. And it talks to the evolution of tasks using technology in much the same way WAN management has moved from the old way of command line configuration of individual routers, to a new, software-defined approach of managing network topologies.

Online shopping has transformed how we manage our inventory of consumables. Let’s first think about the old way of shopping. Those who were efficient created shopping lists to make the physical journey to a store a more effective process. You defined the items you needed in a list, journeyed to that specific location where the goods could be obtained, purchased those items, and then returned home.

But, groceries could only be obtained at a grocery store. Similarly, you could only purchase consumer electronics at a retailer specializing in just that. Clothes at a department store. Or toys at a toy store. What that meant was different lists for each store and distinct trips to those individual stores.

SD-WAN. Oversimplified. - eCommerce

The “old” way of configuring networking equipment is actually quite similar. Instead of specific shopping lists, you have lines of code (issued via CLI) that need to be sent to specific routers in order for configurations to be changed or updated. Those individual routers are much like the individual stores. So, while in the end, you did get the job done (of buying the things you needed or configuring individual routers), it took a long time.

And what if you forgot to put an item on a list? That would require another trip to the store (or yet another configuration update on a router). Or what if you bought the wrong thing (lists can be erroneous or inaccurate)? That would mean you have to return the item (another trip back to the store). Similarly, errors in CLI updates can be potentially devastating to corporations and troubleshooting is equally complex.

Online shopping transforms this buying process, much like how SD-WAN simplifies the process of WAN management. From the convenience of a single portal, you can compile lists across a broader range of options. You can fine-tune those lists to your liking, regardless of the selection type, and then when you have double-checked everything, purchase it all at once.

The beauty of online ordering is, your specific orders are sent to the vendors in many locations for fulfillment. It doesn’t matter if your goods are coming from the next city, the next state, or across the country. And it appears at your doorstep in a set amount of time, almost magically. Want to cancel or change an order? Do it through the ordering portal. No need to make an additional trip back to a physical store.

SD-WAN works in a similar way, albeit, this shopping example is a bit of an oversimplification. Instead of individual routers, you define business rules to manage all routers in many locations. When making a change or update to a network policy, it is all driven by changes within the management portal which propagate out to all locations. If you make a mistake in your configurations, you can quickly issue a policy update to correct it across the organization. It is managed by software which allows it to be more dynamic and efficient.

You don’t care how your orders get to you. You only care about getting your actual orders (and without numerous trips to the store). Similarly, your networks are defined easily by software, not by individual, error-prone updates issued one-by-one. You manage your WAN through group policies that are automatically distributed across your infrastructure.

SD-WAN. Oversimplified explanations. Powerful solutions.

So yes, these two examples are a bit of an oversimplification of the true power of SD-WAN. There is tremendous control, flexibility, and ease-of-use built into the Riverbed SD-WAN solution. The examples above merely scrape the surface as a means of introduction to this technology solution.

If this type of WAN-management technology intrigues you or you feel it might be a good fit to your organization, I encourage you to dive deeper by reviewing some of our customer success stories or use cases, reading some white papers or analyst reports and, most importantly, asking questions. We also have an FAQ with further SD-WAN definitions to help. And, be sure to review this “How SD-WAN Works” tutorial! While this technology is rapidly evolving, it is also a key catalyst in the digital transformation businesses are undergoing.

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