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Collapsing the ‘Branch Stack’ onto SD-WAN Delivers Compelling Benefits

Employees in branch locations need access to applications and data that are maintained in the headquarters data center, as well as a growing array of cloud services. A secure and reliable WAN connection is critical to their success.

Many organizations have implemented dedicated routers and WAN optimization appliances in remote sites to improve the efficiency of data transfers. As more locations connect to the Internet directly to access cloud applications, firewalls and other security devices have also been deployed in the branch. The result is an increasingly complex “branch stack” that creates IT operational challenges.

IT teams must support and maintain branch networking equipment to ensure the proper functioning of the WAN and a high-quality user experience. However, branch offices often have limited (if any) IT resources onsite. That means headquarters IT staff must travel to each location to install this equipment, and each device must be managed individually. If problems arise, support may be delayed until trained personnel can arrive onsite to troubleshoot the issue.

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology can relieve these headaches. SD-WAN uses software to automatically select the best WAN connection based upon network conditions, application requirements and other administrator-defined criteria. The software-defined approach also can be used to virtualize other WAN functionality and collapse it onto the SD-WAN solution.


The Value of SD-Branch

This model, known as SD-Branch, offers compelling business and IT benefits. Organizations don’t have to purchase as much hardware and manage the maintenance contracts that go along with that hardware. Less hardware also means a smaller IT footprint in branch locations, which often have limited space.

SD-WAN enables zero-touch provisioning, eliminating the need to visit remote sites to deploy equipment. And because SD-WAN solutions are managed via a centralized controller, IT teams don’t have to administer multiple appliances. Everything is handled through one, consistent interface.

A primary advantage of SD-WAN is increased security. IT teams are often slow to install patches and updates due to a lack of resources and concern that an untested patch will result in compatibility issues across the various branch appliances. SD-WAN enables operational efficiencies that simplify patch management. Plus, there’s less risk that a configuration change will affect the rest of the stack.

Finally, SD-Branch enables greater agility and scalability. New locations can be turned up quickly using a consistent “network-in-a-box” solution and scaled easily to support growing numbers of users and devices.


Best-of-Breed Tools

The 2018-19 WAN Economics and Technologies study by Nemertes Research found strong interest in SD-Branch. In fact, 78 percent of respondents are looking to replace their branch routers with SD-WAN, while 82 percent are looking to replace their WAN optimization appliances and 77 percent their branch firewalls.

When deploying SD-Branch, organizations should choose an SD-WAN solution that delivers best-of-breed functionality across the branch stack. Cisco has integrated its Viptela SD-WAN technology with its IOS XE network operating system, making it possible to monitor network traffic and manage Cisco Integrated Services Routers (ISRs) using the Viptela vManage console. Cisco SD-WAN also incorporates WAN optimization techniques for predictable application performance, and centralized management through a dashboard interface.

In addition, Cisco has integrated firewall, intrusion prevention, URL filtering and other security functionality into Cisco SD-WAN devices, making it possible to implement advanced security and consistently enforce policies across remote sites. These tools are powered by Cisco Talos threat intelligence and can be integrated with the Cisco Umbrella secure Internet gateway.

The hardware-centric approach to WAN functionality in branch locations makes it difficult for IT to ensure the reliability, security and performance of the WAN. Collapsing the branch stack onto Cisco’s SD-WAN technology reduces branch complexity to enable greater efficiency, security, flexibility and scale.

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