Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) have revolutionized the world of networking. NFV’s success in telecom space and the imagination of a few experts to extend to this enterprise have given birth to the idea of Enterprise Network Functions Virtualization (ENFV). The concept of physical network appliances is going away, leaving only the switch as the lone wolf in the appliances space. Moving every network appliance from a physical world to virtual and packing them in a single x86 appliance is possible now. This Point of View (PoV) document discusses about one such trend of virtualizing important network and security functions and therefore making the branch networks run from a single box.
Current approach and its challenges
Large corporations of various industry verticals such as retail or banking heavily rely on branches in conducting day-to-day business for one simple reason – they are closer to the consumer of their products or services. While cloudification has successfully moved the applications to a central location, the people who need to access these applications are distributed across the country or globe. However, with the increasing costs and need for consolidation it’s no longer possible to have an IT staff member in each branch. Some of these branches may be as small as 5-10 employees. With increasing complexity in technologies, the generic IT administrators no longer can handle highly specialized IT tasks. You need specialized operating system administrators, back-up administrators, IT security staff and somebody to manage them all. Of course, a branch cannot afford an expansive IT department. Management of Head Quarters IT or the data centers are being outsourced to commercial outsourcing & professional services organizations. Can you manage a branch with no IT staff? Seems unrealistic, but with the branch-in-a-box approach, it’s doable.
Current approach in connecting the branch is:
New approach – Virtualized Branch Networking
Virtualized Branch Networking with the power of hyper-convergence is the new approach that is geared-up to address the above shortcomings.
This is achieved through virtualization of network functions including routing, wireless LAN controller, firewall, and virtualized servers for running various local applications. Switch may be still required, but a small network switch (supported by few manufacturers now) as a module in the server itself, serves the purpose. Access points cannot be replaced though.
The benefits hyper-convergence brings to a branch office network is not only limited to running network functions; with the compute and storage available on these appliances you may run small branch office applications, domain, file and print services, time and attendance applications or CCTV surveillance consoles. All these come with the enterprise grade advantage of centralized back up and management.
This single server can be shipped to the branch offices preconfigured waiting to be connected to the Internet (a task which can be achieved by a non-IT staff) and powered, while rest of the configuration, management, policies and control from one central location. In a single click, back up of branch data can be initiated, restored from central location and the branch is up and running in no time.
Resultant benefits are several:
Critical success factors
Several leading network vendors have recognized the need of customers managing large number of branches and have packaged their hyper-converged branch solutions. However, the following will determine the success factors of such solutions:
As the customers adopt more and more branch-in-a-box solutions, feedback exchange with vendors and system integrators these solutions will mature over the period resulting in simplified, secure branch office networking. Be assured, time has come to order your branch networking in a box and unbox your branch.
Mohan Krishnamurthy Madwachar- Mohan has coauthored eight books published by Syngress:
He also writes in newspaper columns on various subjects and has contributed to leading content companies as a technical writer and a subject matter expert.
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