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‘From: WAN Speak’

The concept of the “thin branch” enabled by simplifying infrastructure has been around for as long as there have been branch offices. Branch offices are typically a microcosm of the company headquarters, but without the necessary IT staff to run them. It’s common to find a myriad of network and security equipment in a branch including a router, firewall, WAN optimizer, VPN concentrators, along with almost anything else you can think of. This, of course, results in an operational nightmare as network administrators must deal with multiple devices in dozens, hundreds or even thousands of branch locations. In small networks it can be extremely challenging to track all the different hardware components and related software versions across the various locations. In large networks, this task is impossible as the number of possible combinations of hardware and software grows exponentially in relation to the number of locations.

SD-WANs have garnered a tremendous amount of interest from companies both large and small as they can significantly lower the costs and complexity of running a WAN. As businesses migrate applications to the cloud, they are increasingly embracing the cost advantages of broadband connectivity to connect users to applications. This is being driven not only by the high cost of private WAN circuits, but because backhauling applications’ traffic to the data center is negatively impacting application performance, resulting in frustrated users and sub-optimal productivity. The combination of high costs and poor performance seem like a perfect recipe for market disruption.

When it comes to WAN architecture, there has been a debate that has raged on for decades.  Hub-and-spoke or fully distributed mesh, which is better?  Hub-and-spoke networks are certainly simpler to design and manage, but the downside is that all branch traffic needs to be backhauled through a central location. Consider a U.S.-based company with a branch office in Japan where a user is trying to access a local website. The traffic would need to go from the branch, back to the U.S., back to Japan, and then back to the U.S., only to be sent off to Japan yet again. This clearly represents an enormous waste of bandwidth and resource, not to mention impaired user productivity.

It’s my belief that we will look back at 2017 as a tipping point for the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT has certainly been something that most business and IT leaders talk about, but to date, deployments have been limited to key verticals that have been connecting things for years, although we called it machine-to-machine (M2M) before it became cool to say IoT.

It’s safe to say that no one likes change. It makes us uncomfortable and puts us in positions that we are not familiar with. This is certainly true in our personal lives, but it’s also true in our jobs. It seems every time there is some kind of major technology shift everything changes, and IT needs to adapt, adopt new best practices, and develop new skills. Think back to the transition from mainframes to PC computing, TDM voice to VoIP, and physical servers to virtualization. Each of these seismic shifts required IT organizations to completely change the way they operate.

The Gartner Magic Quadrant is certainly the most iconic graphic ever created by an industry analyst firm. Second on that list is the Gartner Hype Cycle. Personally, I find the naming scheme of the elements of the Hype Cycle to be a bit trite, but each phase is fairly accurate.

At the start of the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Lt. Saavik took a test known as the Kobayashi Maru.  The test was actually a trap to see how someone would handle a “no-win scenario” where any choice made would lead to a bad outcome.  In network engineering, a Kobayashi Maru-like scenario is emerging for those who resist a move away from manual processes.

Embracing Automation is Key

One of my new rules is that “manual processes are the mortal enemy of network operations”. Earlier this month I wrote a post discussing the new rules of running a WAN, discussing how manual processes are bad for the business because they make the network a big choke point for the company, stifling business innovation.



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