WAN Agility: Speed Revenues by Extending Automation Geographically
May 08, 2017

Erik Thoen
128 Technology

For companies with wide area networks (WANs), a reduced time to revenue is the biggest advantage that network agility can provide. This advantage takes different forms, depending on the enterprise. For a managed service provider (MSP), turning up a service quickly is critical to success. For a retail chain launching a new store, a shorter wait for reliable connectivity to key services is a major step towards sales velocity. For an enterprise opening a new development office, the faster IT can provide access to internal applications, the faster the office can develop revenue-generating products and services. In all these cases, network agility directly translates into financial benefit.

With increased competition, enterprises now require greater agility than ever before, and traditional approaches simply can’t provide the speed enterprises demand. For decades, companies have leveraged purpose-built hardware, which needs to be ordered, shipped, and installed at several locations to deliver services. More recently, large, web-service providers have demonstrated rapid scaling and creation of new services in the cloud using standardized hardware and considerable automation. To remain competitive with these new players, companies need to improve their operational agility both in the data center and the WAN.

In data center networking, vendors are offering tools to enterprises to speed service delivery by introducing white box switches, configuration management tools, and deployment applications. White box switches separate the underlying hardware from the networking software, which encourages standardization and lowers costs. Open source configuration automation tools have become the key method to delivering repeatable deployment at enormous scale. Numerous deployment applications are emerging, including open-source multi-vendor zero-touch provisioning servers, which focus on automating heterogeneous deployments – a challenging and potentially labor intensive task.

While these data center examples indicate a "roadmap to responsiveness," making the WAN equally agile introduces several additional complexities. For example, by the very definition of WAN, devices to be deployed are geographically dispersed. This adds operational and logistical complexity with devices at multiple locations (with middleboxes potentially in the path).

Further, connectivity requirements often vary by site, requiring a mix of Ethernet, WLAN, and LTE. In contrast to a data center with a highly-uniform cloud of servers with identical interfaces, the underlying hardware at the edge of a network may differ from site to site. Finally, today’s enterprise might include thousands of fixed sites, but in the future, mobile devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) could drive site numbers into the tens of thousands.

Companies need to embrace WAN agility by building upon data center networking approaches, leveraging agent-based automation tools and Network Function Virtualization (NFV). For WAN applications, agent-based tools are now available, which have the distinct advantage of pushing from the branch, through middleboxes, to the centralized automation point. This ensures remote sites are reachable. NFV is networking implemented in software. With this abstraction, the same networking functionality can be achieved and managed across mixed hardware at diverse sites.

While agility in all operations is desirable for companies, speed in the initial deployment phase is the most valuable. Zero-touch deployment describes the highly-automated sequence of operations from generic physical or virtual platforms to geographically dispersed operating routers. To enable zero-touch deployment, companies need to leverage NFV and a DevOps approach. Deployment accelerates when vendors design networking functions to be entirely virtualized, run on the Linux operating system, and abstract underlying HW. By creating standards-based APIs, like REST, and leveraging open-source configuration management tools, companies could automate the entire installation and provisioning sequence from a staging location to any number of remotely deployed networking devices. With this approach, true WAN agility is possible.

Erik Thoen is Director, Product Management, at 128 Technology.

The Latest

November 14, 2018

What to automate? Which parts of the delivery process are good candidates? Which applications will benefit from automation? At first, those sound like silly questions. Automate all your repetitive processes. If you think that you'll do the same thing manually more than once, automate it. Why would you waste your creative potential and knowledge by doing things that are much better done by scripts? Yet, an average company does not adhere to that logic. Why is that? ...

November 13, 2018

I'd love to see more security automation deeply integrated into the development process. Everybody knows since the 1990s that security as an afterthought just doesn't work, yet we keep doing it. The reason, I think, is because it's very hard to automate security ...

November 09, 2018

DEVOPSdigest asked experts from across the IT industry for their opinions on what steps in the SDLC should be automated. Part 5, the final installment, covers deployment and production ...

November 08, 2018

DEVOPSdigest asked experts from across the IT industry for their opinions on what steps in the SDLC should be automated. Part 4 is all about security ...

November 07, 2018

DEVOPSdigest asked experts from across the IT industry for their opinions on what steps in the SDLC should be automated. Part 3 covers the development environment and the infrastructure ...

November 06, 2018

DEVOPSdigest asked experts from across the IT industry for their opinions on what steps in the SDLC should be automated. Part 2 covers the coding process ...

November 05, 2018

Everyone talks about automating the software development lifecycle (SDLC) but the first question should be: What should you automate? With this question in mind, DEVOPSdigest asked experts from across the IT industry for their opinions on what steps in the SDLC should be automated. Part 1 starts with by-far the most popular recommendation: Testing ...

October 31, 2018

Halloween is a time for all things spooky, but not when it comes to your mobile app experience. A poor experience can not only scare off your customers but keep them away for good ...

October 30, 2018

As organizations have embraced open source, they have become polyglot — using multiple programming languages and technology stacks to accomplish software and hardware related tasks. Enterprises are caught between the benefits provided by a polyglot environment and the complexities and challenges these environments bring. Ultimately, if the situation remains unchecked, polyglot will kill your enterprise ...

October 29, 2018

Factor 5 of the Twelve-Factor App relates more to processes and advises strictly separating the build and run stages. The emphasis is on identifying and separating each stage of app development, and encouraging automation between each so as to accelerate the process ...

Share this