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Future Networks

Virtualization technology for networks

16-Nov-2017

Virtualization technology is unlocking the wide area network: the SD-WAN provides new connections and functions in a short time.
Virtualization technology for networks
Virtualization technology for networks

Whether for videoconferencing or cloud applications, companies across industries rely on a robust network infrastructure that can ideally be adapted quickly and as needed. But while companies nowadays source IT services dynamically from the cloud, cross-site company networks often lag behind. “They react slower,” said Dr. Thomas Zinner from the Department of Computer Science and Communication Networks at the University of Würzburg. “Their functions are tied to special hardware. Their deployment requires specialized personnel and often telephone agreements between different network operators.” Companies therefore need time and patience to connect new locations, establish encrypted connections or increase bandwidths. After all, the network operator has to do a lot of the work manually: “It takes time to program routers and switches, to set up new firewalls and to send wifi access points around the world by courier,” said Zinner who researches the network technologies of tomorrow.

Slow networks inhibit business

The Digital Business Readiness study which was published in 2015 highlights the issue: When asked about the biggest IT barriers in 100 large German companies, legacy system and network architectures come fourth with 19 percent. In three out of four companies, changes to the corporate network affect the business several times a year, according to a 2016 survey of administrators conducted by consulting firm Dimensional Research. However, in the future, changes to the wide area networks could be much faster - thanks to technology coming from the large data center.
The data center operators had a problem: at the beginning of the 21st century, they were looking for ways to cope with unforeseeable peak loads. Their idea was that it should be possible to control, configure and administer all components in a local area network (LAN) centrally in order to ensure optimum data flows at all times. A “controller”, a central technical network coordinator, provided the solution. Instead of configuring routers and switches manually and allowing them to control the network, the central controller watches over everything by  controlling and configuring  at the same time. Like a signal box on a railway tracks, the controller optimizes the flow of data in the network via software. In other words: the controller sets the course so that information always flows smoothly and follows the path that is intended for it. If there is a bottleneck at some point in the network, traffic is diverted. In the event of danger, it blocks individual sections of the network such as ports or IP addresses. Like with railways if a fast train is approaching, it is given priority. “Separating the data forwarding and control layer makes network management simpler, more efficient and quicker,” said Zinner.

Programmable networks boost digitization 

The idea of a network that can be controlled centrally via software (SDN) was born. Today, a good ten years later, the first SD-WAN offerings are on the market, which provide the solution from the former data center for complete wide area networks. In other words, cross-company networks can be centrally and automatically controlled and flexibly changed. The network functions – firewalls, gateways or load balancers – also run as software on standard servers at the company site. In no time they can be adapted to the network needs. Virtual network technology therefore allows networks to be managed in the same way that companies today also use to source cloud services - at the touch of a button and precisely scaled. Thanks to software-defined networking, bandwidths can be adapted much faster, the prioritization of data streams easier to implement. The networks not only keep up with the pace of IT, but also further fuel the digital transformation.

Network services and IT are merging

According to experts like Zinner, software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) are the future: “The SD-WAN automatically brings locations into the corporate network - as easily as one already sets up gateway devices today or connects virtual machines from the data center.” IDC's technology market researchers also see the SD-WAN having a bright future: flexible, easy to manage, and scalable. It not only fosters cost-effectiveness, but also brings together increasing demands and low budgets.