Branch offices can be a double-edged sword, depending on an employee’s role in the organization. For product managers and other businesspeople, branches are a great way to expand into new geographic markets, grow the customer base and drive revenue.
But for CIOs and IT managers, branch offices can be a headache, increasing the scope and complexity of security, resiliency and connectivity. Now, software-defined networking and network-functions virtualization can alleviate those headaches, while also providing operational flexibility and technology future proofing. Here’s how.
Software-Defined Networks Help to Maximize Connections
Branch offices that were established some time ago may be due for IT upgrades. As with their greenfield counterparts, connectivity is a primary area of focus. For example, to ensure uptime and productivity, brownfield and greenfield branches often need multiple broadband connections from different providers. But that redundancy may come at a price if one or more of those backup connections sits unused most of the time. Software-defined WAN eliminates that waste by making it easy to match each traffic type with the appropriate connection.
Suppose the backup is satellite or 4G LTE cellular. When there’s no outage, a gateway such as Juniper’s SRX series can route bandwidth-intensive, mission-critical data over the primary connection, while the backup handles low-priority or low-bandwidth traffic. That way, the organization is always using every connection it pays for, and less important traffic doesn’t clog up the primary link. If an outage does occur, the gateway automatically makes the switch.
Centralized Network Management Simplifies IT Work
For both greenfield and brownfield branches, customer premise equipment, such as Juniper’s NFX series, is another key consideration. Unlike older CPEs, for which firmware upgrades were the extent of their upgradeability, these next-generation endpoints are full-blown compute platforms. If a branch needs a firewall, for example, administrators can simply load the software on the CPE. Forward-looking flexibility also goes up, because as business needs change or IT architectures evolve, staff can load additional software to support those changes, too.
Newer CPEs also contribute to resiliency and performance when multiple routing connections exist. For example, they can make choices based on the latency requirements of each application.
Orchestration software, such as Juniper’s Contrail, provides a centralized way to manage all of these nodes. That’s especially valuable when it comes to functions such as implementing security policies. If the business has virtual networks, say something like Infrastructure as a Service, the orchestration software can connect them into an environment that’s easy for IT staff to manage.
Orchestration software also can automate tasks, and that frees up staff to focus on activities that make more meaningful contributions to the company’s bottom line and its competitiveness. Consider a situation in which an organization needs to ship new endpoints to a branch office. Branch employees could simply plug the devices into a network connection, where they would automatically look for the orchestration server. That server would then provision the appropriate software and policies. No more trekking to each branch to deploy new hardware or software.
Use cases like that are an example of what makes the underlying concept of network-functions virtualization so attractive to growing businesses. It enables the extensive automation that’s key for scaling up and managing networks gracefully and cost-effectively.
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