Speeding up Network Provisioning

You probably know the problem already. The business is opening up a new office; has acquired a new company or wants to move a group of people from Place A to Place B. They have finally got around to letting IT know that it will happen – and they want you to wave your magic wand and get everything in place yesterday.

Large group of disconnected blue Internet cablesOK – with modern approaches, it is likely that you can spin up a load more virtual desktops and get some thin client systems out to the remote location without too much trouble. The new users can be added to the system pretty quickly – processes are well in place to manage this.

The only real issue is connectivity.

And it can be a show stopper. Even where you have existing relationships with a telecoms operator, getting a large-enough connection in place to deal with the data traffic can take, at best, weeks (and at worst, months) to be rolled out by the provider. Meanwhile, the savvier users are scrabbling around using their own data plans on their cell phones and tablets to get any work done, claiming back through their expenses in an uncontrolled manner; whilst the less savvy are just sitting there being relatively unproductive.

The business looks to IT – you are the constraining point; it is you fault that, yet again, things are being held up by your failures.

Maybe the savvier users have it right? Maybe the way to go is through using a wireless WAN? Certainly, when you look at the growth of wireless connectivity, the capacity for users to gain access to systems through a wireless network is becoming far easier. Provisioning is quicker – you still need some customer premises equipment (CPE) – a suitable router/gateway – but these can be fast-tracked through purchasing (or even held in inventory) at relatively low cost. Gaining the SIMs from the network providers is generally a matter of hours, rather than days – with the right agreements in place with providers, it will often again be more a case of taking one from stock already purchased rather than waiting for one to be delivered. Holding the cards and router/gateway in inventory also allows for the systems to be pre-configured and then shipped to site by courier if necessary – again making provisioning a matter of hours rather than weeks/months. All that is left as an IT job is to run network cables round the remote site so that the thin clients can plug in: everything else can be carried out centrally.

However, the main issues have been twofold. Firstly, wireless has tended to be low bandwidth with high latency. Secondly, it has been difficult to manage in a secure manner – something where wired WANs have had a chance to evolve to a greater level of maturity.

On the first point, sure – 3G systems may not be up to the job. However, where 4G LTE (long term evolution) networks are available, bandwidth becomes far less of an issue. 4G LTE under its current standard can support up to 300Mb/s download and 75Mb/s upload at low latency – enough for real time streams such as voice and video. Where greater bandwidth is required, bonding can be used with multiple networks to provide multiples of the 4G capacity – although this ideally requires different base stations to be the connection points, otherwise spectrum and backhaul issues can become a constraint on throughput. Using bonded lines also provides higher availability: your users’ connectivity is not dependent on one provider’s network.

On the second point, the move to the use of software defined systems is showing great promise. By viewing 4G LTE as a transport layer and then taking as many of the management and control functions away from that layer into a more standardized compute environment, end-to-end data management can be put in place. By combining the relatively mature SDN (software defined networking) concepts with SD-WAN (software defined wide area networks), a business can more easily define end-to-end IT processes that can be reused, such as the work required around provisioning users through the addition of a new office or the acquisition of a new organization.

Through the use of an SD-WAN, centralized management of remote systems also becomes far easier. The overall platform becomes far more of a homogeneous environment; IT can monitor and manage the overall organizational IT platform in context and can use standardized tools (such as systems management and data center infrastructure management) to ensure that everything is running as required. IT can better manage how the evolution to a hybrid cloud platform happens – different environments can move at different times as the evolution process fits in with the business.

The business world is changing – IT is having to change to go with it. The need for an abstraction across network types is now pretty much an imperative. Wired and wireless LANs in combination with wires and wireless WANs require an holistic manner of managing them. 4G LTE will have a far greater part to play in the WAN space in the future: only SD-WAN can make sure that organization gain full value from such a move.

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the issues facing enterprises seeking to implement a Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) solution, as addressed in the Open Networking User Group white paper, “ONUG Software-Defined WAN Use Case”.