Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) promises a wide variety of benefits — from cost savings by enabling the use of public Internet as well as MPLS and single-use CPE links to faster time-to-response in making changes to the WAN.
The software-defined world is new to many WAN administrators and engineers. They’re being pushed further away from hardware and toward software. There’s even an expectation in many organizations that networking professionals learn to code — or at least begin to treat their infrastructure as such. It’s a change that appears to be accelerating, and the WAN administrator/engineer role will become one increasingly focused on managing and configuring software.
The solution to managing the increasingly complex WAN infrastructure is through the use of DevOps methodologies. As a methodology and movement, DevOps was popularized as a term in 2009 as a combination of development and operations. It came out of the Agile software development movement and aims to include developers, QA/testers and operations staff in collaborative processes to improve the entire software lifecycle.
As noted in a Network Computing column by Dan Conde of Enterprise Strategy Group earlier this year, there may be some belief among networking professionals (or at least the up-and-comers who don’t know the job landscape yet) that network administrators are about to become programmers. The good news? That’s not the case, but some knowledge of scripting will make managing SD-WANs easier for all involved.
That’s where automation, another critical element of DevOps, comes in. One of the key goals of the DevOps movement is to get better software to market faster. For that to happen, especially when dealing with a variety of on-premises, data center, public cloud and private cloud environments simultaneously, automation becomes a necessity.
Using automation tools and scripts can also be of great benefit to SD-WAN administrators. Automation exists in DevOps to create some kind of standardization for rolling out changes, but also to eliminate the need to spend time dealing with simple manual tasks. It frees up time best used for more mission-critical projects.
That’s where SD-WAN administrators can find some benefit in DevOps methodologies. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from the many people I’ve spoken with about DevOps and the network (whether WAN or LAN) is that every time a manual task is accomplished, operators should consider whether a script can replace the manual intervention.
That can be applied to any aspect of the IT environment, really. For instance, there’s no sense in clearing a cache manually when a script can be quickly written to clear a cache every time a particular resource hits 75 percent of its listed threshold.
Scripted automation can apply to tasks related to the SD-WAN and remote or branch office, as well. Some of those capabilities are built into some SD-WAN products, including the zero-touch provisioning feature of Versa Networks’ own SD-WAN solution.
For many network administrators and engineers, SD-WAN adoption may seem far off. Turning manual processes for SD-WANs into scripts may seem like a skill needed years in the future. But the SD-WAN market is growing significantly. IDC predicts the worldwide market will have a compound annual growth rate over the next four years of 90 percent, resulting in a $6 billion industry by 2020. That’s evidence the SD-WAN market is growing by leaps and bounds; and it may soon have an impact on your organizations, if it’s not already.