SD-WAN and analytics: A marriage made for the new normal

SD-WAN and analytics: A marriage made for the new normal

Reliance on SD-WAN analytics grows as customers embrace cloud and security

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Analytics have moved from a nice-to-have feature to a must-have, particularly in the growing land of SD-WAN where it’s increasingly important to digest large volumes of data quickly in order to respond to threats and changing network conditions.

“Now, for SD-WAN to do its ‘thing’, and deliver on its automation and intelligence attributes, it needs insights in real time, and these are typically delivered by the visibility and analytics tools that many solutions now offer – either as integrated options or via third-party or eco-system partners,” said Rohit Mehra, vice president, Network Infrastructure for IDC.

That’s even more critical now as SD-WAN deployments serve an ever increasing remote workforce. Recent IIDC surveys say that 95 per cent of businesses will be using SD-WAN technology within two years, and that 42 per cent have already deployed it. IDC also says the SD-WAN infrastructure market will hit US$4.5 billion by 2022, growing at a more than 40 per cent yearly clip between now and then.

“With the rapid increase in use of cloud services including video and IoT applications, which have only been accelerated with the ongoing global pandemic, wide area networking and remote connectivity stays a mission critical need for enterprise IT,” said Mehra.

“Specifically, SD-WAN emerged as an evolution from enterprise routing and WAN optimisation to address the needs of a more dynamic, intelligent architecture around these evolving application needs,” Mehra said.

Probes or agents in vendors’ SD-WAN packages gather network, performance, security and other telemetry and combine it with historic customer and vendor-gathered data. Analysis of this data generates recommendations, policy changes or other actions to help IT keep the overall WAN environment humming.

Analytics programs can also reduce the number of overall alerts IT teams deal with because the programs can focus on those things enterprises consider most important.

Vendors such as Cisco, VMware, Versa, Silver Peak, Citrix, Cato and others have varying degrees of analytic sophistication in their SD-WAN packages, but all of them are marching toward supporting cloud-connected customers.

“Many, if not most, SD-WAN vendors do have some core analytics and visibility capabilities built into their solutions which helps deliver on the dynamic aspects of the SD-WAN architecture,” Mehra said.

“However, the needs for increased visibility and analytic, and hence insights, from the endpoint all way to the cloud, is driving the roadmap for solution providers, and in many cases, increasing M&A-related conversations across the industry.”

One of those companies, Versa, whose Secure SD-WAN package includes analytics features, says increase in work-from-home users has driven analytics use as IT customers need to understand what’s going in on their increasingly distributed environments.

“Whether your traffic going to public cloud or a SaaS, customers want a full understanding of performance and security issues that analytics can help with,” said Kumar Mehta, co-founder and chief development officer of Versa. “With our SD-WAN analytics IT can gain visibility from wherever the user is located from the cloud or to a data centre and get a full understanding of where network or application problems are and fix them quickly.”

As many employees work from home, analysing those links and finding problems with them is already an issue. That sort of capability will become more important going forward and analytics can do that, Mehta said.

“The enterprise is currently going through one of its biggest transformations, and the largest driver behind that is cloud and multi-cloud access combined with the new normal of the distributed workforce,” said Cisco’s Rohan Grover, senior director of product management, Enterprise Routing and SD-WAN group.

One of the challenges facing enterprise IT is getting the visibility from the SD-WAN into the multiple clouds many customers have. Some have over 20 SaaS providers, which is complicated enough, but in addition, cloud connectivity has always been a blind spot, Grover said.

Analytics in Cisco’s SD-WAN vManage package and in its Meraki-based SD-WAN offering exchange telemetry information between the SD-WAN platforms and cloud vendors – Amazon and Google in particular – and help customers make sure everything is working correctly.

Grover said analytics help customers determine which connections such as MPLS circuits or direct internet links would be better to use for a particular application, Grover said.

Other analytics use cases gaining ground are figuring out the optimal use of bandwidth and capacity planning for branch networks, which has never been more important, Grover said.

“While the case for increased visibility and analytics is successfully being made today across several IT domains, the case for incremental SD-WAN intelligence and automation in a post-Covid-19 phase will only get stronger, as various digital transformation initiatives get accelerated, which in turn requires the network to transform,” IDC’s Mehra said.

SD-WAN analytics tools can help enterprises monitor end-user behaviour and send alerts about issues including dropped connections, outages with the ISP, and QoS problems, said Craig Connors, vice president and CTO of SD-WAN at VMware. “Based upon real-time data, network operators are able to not only detect these issues but remediate the problem remotely.”

Improving enterprise security is another developing use case for SD-WAN analytics, which can track what users are doing no matter where they are located. And that analytics-base security can fit into the larger secure-access services edge (SASE) architecture that protects critical network junctures with cloud-based security services.

“Threats are obviously evolving, and now we have IoT and all manner of other mobile devices joining the network, and it becomes harder for IT to manage and secure all those pieces,” Connors said. “Traditional security systems might not notice trends, but an analytics engine can detect and flag security problems. The idea of merging security and SD-WAN is part of what SASE architectures promise as well.”

The analytics engine knows what network trends are and can identify when there is something happening in the network that isn’t normal. Analytics can flag anomalies and threats then help customers understand what the issues are and help with remediation said Versa’s director of engineering Roopa Bayar.  “Analytics can establish security patterns and behaviours,” Bayar said.

In the future customers can expect to see more AI and machine learning added to analytics packages to improve network performance and application management, but also to improve intelligence and reduce response-time to issues, experts said.

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