Virtualization has been transforming IT infrastructure strategies. It began with server virtualization. Establishing virtual machines within single systems allowed one server to host dozens of applications, changing the way data centers operate by allowing apps to use system resources on an as-needed basis. This process extended out to storage, network and desktop systems, creating software-defined data centers. Virtualization’s rise has also led to more discussions around the idea of software-defined WAN systems.
At its core, the idea of virtualization is fairly straightforward. By abstracting the software from the hardware, apps and services can use resources flexibly, letting groups of clustered machines freely share capabilities and allowing each system to be used at a higher capacity. This becomes a bit more nuanced when dealing with the network.
“Virtualization streamlines data routing by flattening the traditional layers of a network.”
The nuts and bolts of software-defined networks
Virtualizing the network is effectively a data routing strategy that flattens the traditional layers of a data center network so that information can move through the most efficient pathway at any time to reach its destination. When a network is virtualized, the usual routing protocols that depend heavily on the physical location of routers and switches are replaced by logic controllers that automatically identify the resources available within the network and route information accordingly.
In the data center, this functionality is instrumental as a solution to many of the challenges created by server virtualization. When servers are highly virtualized, organizations end up with a situation in which a system with only one or two network ports may be supporting more than a dozen applications. As those apps need to access network resources at the same time, the typical routes can quickly get clogged as one port is heading out to one switch or patch panel – which may well be the destination for dozens of physical machines.
The data density challenges escalate fast in this situation, and the ability to add a layer of intelligence to network routing through a software-defined controller proves invaluable when breaking down the physical barriers of the network to eliminate longstanding bottlenecks.
In practice, all of these capabilities add up to a network that can be automated and orchestrated to the same degree as virtualized server and storage environments.
This same functionality can be applied to WAN systems, something that is particularly valuable as businesses ramp up their efforts to invest in cloud computing and other web-based technologies.
Leveraging the SD WAN
WAN infrastructure has long been a thorn in the side of IT leaders, and the problem has only gotten worse in recent years. WANs used to primarily serve one of two functions – provide internet access or support mission-critical apps and communications between branch offices and data centers. In most cases, a solution such as an MPLS would support the essential data workloads, and a broadband plan would handle day-to-day data. Effectively, businesses maintain multiple layers of their WAN depending on the data type, and must also manage dedicated network controllers that are programmed with the logic needed to send different information through various links.
Effectively balancing traffic between these distinct connectivity options has become more difficult as companies depend more heavily on cloud computing and other web-based technologies. All of these apps and services, including video and voice systems, depend on the WAN to get the job done. As these services play a larger role in enterprise operations, businesses must develop more flexible WAN optimization strategies to make sure every user has access to the bandwidth and security features needed to work effectively.
“Software-defined WANs use hosted network controllers to automate route optimization processes.”
Without virtualization, identifying which cloud, video, voice and data traffic would need to go through different WAN channels would require manual deployment and programming of network controllers. Supporting data delivery over the WAN would also require frequent updates to routing strategies as new apps are deployed, workflows change or company policies shift.
Software-defined WANs use hosted network controllers to automate route optimization processes within the WAN, allowing IT teams to effectively take a step back while the virtualized WAN setup balances resources and priorities across various services.
Driving revenue creation through SD WANs
A virtualized WAN setup can create value in diverse ways, including:
- Optimizing hardware resources to eliminate unnecessary and expensive bandwidth upgrades.
- Removing management and hardware overhead that the IT team would have to deal with.
- Freeing WAN resources to be used in the most flexible way possible instead of depending on rigid pre-programmed routing guidelines.
- Maximizing the potential of distinct WAN connections by allowing data to use the most effective network link at any moment.
Software-defined networking is all about adding a layer of intelligence to connectivity management systems. Businesses that want to glean the greatest possible ROI from such investments can use custom network solutions to mix and match various services to best meet their operational demands. Managed services providers are particularly valuable in this process as they have the combination of expertise and technology partnerships needed to help organizations find the right blend of WAN options for their specific needs.