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Leveraging SD-WAN for End-to-End Multi-Cloud Management

Much like multi-cloud, SD-WAN is an operational transformation, though starting from the edges.

Industry Perspectives

August 15, 2019

5 Min Read
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Mike Bushong is VP of Enterprise and Cloud Marketing for Juniper Networks.

For most enterprises, the journey to cloud and multi-cloud starts with applications and that generally means that architectural decisions begin in the data center. If multi-cloud was primarily about where application workloads are serviced, the journey might end in the same place. But multi-cloud is about more than merely relocating applications. At its core, multi-cloud is an operational endeavor, and operations is an end-to-end proposition.

Multi-cloud as an Operational Transformation

The characterization of multi-cloud solutions as a means for reducing costs is incomplete. While some enterprises might see cost benefits from a move to cloud and multi-cloud, increased operational agility is thctually pays for when using a cloud service provider. Is it the servers, storage and network, or is it the cloud operations?

Consider what an enterprise actually pays for when using a cloud service provider. Is it the servers, storage and network, or is it the cloud operations? And if the value is in the operations, then it is worth asking the question: do operations end at the boundaries of the cloud?

Of course, the answer here is no. Anything that impacts how a user experiences infrastructure ought to be within the operational boundaries—from where an application is hosted to where a user accesses infrastructure. The implication is that, while enterprises might initially think about the cloud in isolation, the natural conclusion of this entire movement will bring other parts of the infrastructure into play.

To the Cloud and Back Again

Any traffic destined for the cloud must eventually find its way back again. This means that the operational boundaries over which an enterprise must have control extend from the cloud all the way to the on ramps to the cloud in either the campus or branch. 

Interestingly, there is another technology trend taking root across this same stretch of infrastructure. The software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) movement is bringing the principles of software-defined everything to these cloud on-ramps. Using cloud-delivered management and application-oriented control, SD-WAN is about providing secure and efficient connectivity between remote sites and the clouds—both public and private—that service them. Much like multi-cloud, SD-WAN is an operational transformation, though starting from the edges.

Given their operational orientation and overlap at the edges, it seems obvious that multicloud and SD-WAN are on a collision course. 

How Multi-cloud Shapes SD-WAN

If these two tectonic shifts are destined to intersect, enterprises ought to be thinking about them together. 

For enterprises starting with SD-WAN, multi-cloud brings additional considerations. With SD-WAN, control must be applied to both sides of the WAN. Enterprises also need to be thoughtful about their likely cloud destinations to ensure that solutions extend into the desired cloud properties. 

At first blush, this seems obvious. The major cloud services—AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and Oracle Cloud—are likely supported, or on a path to be supported, by every solution. But for companies for which edge cloud (particularly important for distributed applications and IoT) might play a role, making cloud support an explicit part of the SD-WAN solution might help avoid unseen future roadblocks. Does the policy and control mechanism extend to a different class of edge devices? What happens if those devices come from another supplier?

Additionally, enterprises need to consider where their SD-WAN ambitions end. If the goal is to provide software-defined control and AI-driven operations only at the edge, then planning might be straightforward, but that is unlikely to be the case for most. If these principles need to extend beyond the edge into the campus and branch infrastructure, it means that there must be a path from point management to end-to-end orchestration, a proposition that spans wired and wireless infrastructure both on premises and in the cloud. 

While in the short term, this might seem unnecessary, one should consider how durable operational changes are. It is operations—not devices—that determine how quickly an enterprise will evolve. For most enterprises, there is room enough for only one meaningful operational transformation every decade. Embarking on such a transformation without considering next steps, is a fast journey to a dead-end.

How SD-WAN Shapes Multi-cloud

The same considerations can be applied in reverse. For companies pursuing cloud and multicloud architectures, it is worth considering what the SD-WAN future might hold. 

Orchestration platforms that have no viable means to extend policy and control beyond the cloud and into the rest of the enterprise likely have shorter useful lives in enterprise IT. This means enterprises need to consider how they will service everything from VMs to containers, from branch gateways on premises to VPC gateways in the cloud. 

From a security perspective, enterprises are already thinking about layered approaches to provide in-depth defense. Microsegmentation is a useful tool in the broader security landscape. But what happens when segmentation has to extend beyond the cloud? Where should the enforcement points be and how will things work in multi-vendor environments?

Diverse Infrastructure, Uniform Operations

Ultimately, both multicloud and SD-WAN are about unifying operations over a diverse infrastructure. Whether it’s servicing applications in the data center or public cloud, or connecting users over broadband or a private backbone, the key to operational transformation lies in providing common operating models in the face of disparate underlying resources.

Enterprises would do well to look at these seemingly independent trends—SD-WAN and multi-cloud—as part of a broader enterprise evolution because expanding the operational domain even a little bit changes how various solutions might perform. 

The key to successfully navigating change in today’s technology environment is making the next move while preparing for the one beyond.

Opinions expressed in the article above do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Data Center Knowledge and Informa.

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