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Software-defined networking has become a vital part of modern data center management infrastructure. Admins can use controllers, or clusters of controllers, with software-defined capabilities to configure network devices within their data centers. This means they no longer need to tend to each switch, router and firewall individually to ensure proper configuration and connectivity.
However, as software-defined networking (SDN) technology, including software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN), advances within the data center, admins need to evolve their management strategies accordingly.
Adoption of SD-WAN architecture
As 2016 comes to an end, SD-WAN adoption appears to be a mixed bag. In September, Verizon became the first U.S. carrier to implement a real-world SD-WAN deployment, but no other U.S. carriers followed suit.
In the enterprise, adoption of SD-WAN architecture is still a "relatively recent market development," according to analyst firm IDC, but is expected to grow. IDC predicts the SD-WAN enterprise market will reach revenues of $6 billion in 2020, as enterprises look to tap into benefits ranging from security to simplicity.
In 2015, analyst firm Gartner predicted that 30% of enterprises will have deployed SD-WAN technology in their branch offices by the end of 2019.
SD-WAN architecture is an attempt to abstract much of the networking infrastructure that currently connects various local area networks (LANs) to one another via internet service providers. Rather than rely on routing tables at edge routers, SD-WAN architecture uses flow tables created by an SDN controller.
For example, if internet-bound traffic originating from within the LAN is destined for a branch office located across the country, the packets' route depends on how the SDN controller sets up flow tables.
If you need to make changes to routing configurations, make changes at the controller, and allow the resulting flow table to propagate to relevant networking devices. This is different from traditional network configurations, where administrators in charge of various servers had to coordinate with the networking team to ensure applications can communicate with remote locations via existing network infrastructure.
While an SD-WAN engineer may not be an actual job title, SD-WAN, and SDN in general, is a concept that both network and system administrators must understand moving forward. Network engineers who don't familiarize themselves with virtualization, server applications and server operating systems will fall behind. Furthermore, because SD-WAN architecture is considered a workaround to Multiprotocol Label Switching, you should familiarize yourself with various existing SDN protocols -- such as OpenFlow and OpFlex -- and spend less time on some of the more traditional routing protocols.
The advantages of SD-WAN architecture have yet to be fully realized, as organizations slowly bring the technology into the mainstream. However, as big companies like Cisco and Verizon continue to pour funding into research and development, network administrators would be wise to familiarize themselves with SD-WAN as soon as possible.
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