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A most challenging aspect of branch network operations is the need to provision, manage and operate a complex array of distinct IT elements, or boxes, at the branch. The typical large branch may have four, five or more separate systems. These can include one or two servers, an Ethernet switch, Wi-Fi controller, router, firewall, VPN, plus WAN optimization and SD-WAN elements.
Because each element has its own unique operating system and management console, it can be a challenge to remotely troubleshoot for application performance degradations, WAN outages and security breaches. Fortunately, virtualization and software-based networking innovations have combined to enable new modes of branch networking.
Take, for example, the software-defined branch. The SD-branch combines most branch networking technologies onto a single platform and offers improvements in terms of rapid deployment, integrated security, and centralized monitoring and management. (Doyle Research defines SD-branch as integrating SD-WAN, routing, network security and LAN or Wi-Fi functions in a platform with centralized and unified management.)
The most compelling argument for SD-branch is operational agility. IT organizations can rapidly deploy and provision a network branch-in-a-box product for new locations. Using a centralized management console, IT teams can control and adjust all of the branch network and security functions. This eliminates the need for IT personnel to visit branch locations, which means big cost savings. Plus, unified management with a software-defined branch should make it easier for IT teams to identify and remediate application slowdowns that affect employee productivity.
Many network suppliers are starting to deliver SD-branch offerings. Because the technology is in its nascent stages of development and is largely proprietary, however, it may have limited functionality for some of the network elements, particularly security.
SD-branch is currently recommended for deployment at new or temporary branch locations. As the technology matures and improves, it is likely to become the standard architecture for branch networking.