Understanding the Benefits of Retiring the Branch Router

Last month, I authored a blog post that asked whether it was time for enterprises to move on from the branch router. In that blog, I framed the other options available to organizations that want to head down that route, but I didn’t really emphasize the benefits. Below are the main benefits enterprises realize if they’re ready to move beyond the branch router.

  • Lower capital costs. Traditional branch routers are fairly expensive, with high-end routers priced at well over $10,000 USD. This is a crazy amount of money to pay for a box that provides functionality that can be performed in the cloud. And, high capital costs normally accompany high maintenance costs. I’ve talked to a number of companies that retired their routers as part of their SD-WAN deployment and the cost savings from the annual maintenance contracts alone provided enough of an ROI to make the transition worthwhile.
  • Reduced operational costs. Physical routers generally require some periodic hands-on management by highly skilled networking engineers. The tasks they perform often need to be done on a manual box-by-box basis meaning those valuable engineers can be tied up doing a bunch of tactical tasks that could be automated with a software model. The software nature of an SD-WAN means many maintenance tasks can be accomplished with push updates or can be fully automated, slashing operational costs and freeing up valuable engineering resources for more strategic tasks.
  • Centralized visibility and control. Because traditional branch routers operate in isolation, they can’t be centrally managed. This also means that any telemetry data must be manually aggregated and correlated, providing limited network visibility. One of the fundamental tenets of an SD-WAN is centralized control so management can be performed through the proverbial “single pane of glass”. This also means that visibility of the network can be centralized allowing for problems to be proactively isolated and fixed quickly.
  • Cost-effective scalability. Traditional routers can only scale as far as the hardware platform allows them to. Network engineers are often faced with making compromises. They can either over provision the hardware at a significant cost, but have room to grow or provision for today and risk having to upgrade sooner than expected. An SD-WAN, particularly those that are delivered from the cloud, can scale “on demand”, enabling enterprises to buy what they need today, but also add what they need, when they need it.
  • Better network resiliency. Make no mistake, in this era of cloud, mobility and IoT, the network matters. Network downtime means lost revenue, so network resiliency is an absolute must. All the other benefits of SD-WAN that were listed above are important, but pale in comparison to network resiliency. Traditional branch routers have limitations when it comes to being able to change the transport path when the primary connection fails and can take several minutes to failover. Also, even if multiple paths are being used, only one can be active at a time using traditional routers. An SD-WAN utilizes dynamic multi-path control, so all links can be active at the same time and failover is instantaneous. This ensures that the business maintains continuous network and application connectivity even in the event of a link brownout or outage. For businesses where the network matters, which is essentially all companies, moving beyond the router to a modernized, SD-WAN branch office translates to greater network uptime leading directly to better business resiliency.

Five years ago, there really wasn’t a technology available to make the bold leap to retire branch routers. SD-WANs have come a long way since then and the router-less branch office is now achievable. Early adopters of this trend will see better business resilience and agility with greater control and much lower capital and operational costs.