Back to the Future of Networking

By Sasha Emmerling, Senior Director of Marketing, VMware

Sasha Emmerling, Senior Director of Marketing, VMware
Sasha Emmerling, Senior Director of Marketing, VMware

Outcome-Driven Networking empowers network managers to determine desired business outcomes and rely on the infrastructure intelligence to automatically execute the required configurations and policies network-wide to achieve that outcome. This is best enabled by Cloud-Delivered SD-WAN, according to Sasha Emmerling, Senior Director of Marketing, VMware

As a consumer, our behaviours are based on desired outcomes and businesses that cater to consumers have long created an outcome-driven environment for us. For instance, you need to bake a particular-sized cake, but know you can’t find the appropriate-sized pan locally unless you decide to embark on a multi-store shopping venture. Instead, you open your Amazon application, enter in a few keywords, find the pan, and swipe right to “buy now” with one-click. Wait a day or two, and that cake pan arrives at your door. You didn’t have to call the company, talk to someone about what size you needed, find out if it’s in stock, give them your address, provide your credit card, and decide on shipping options. The entire process is automated for you. You can also check the order status at any time in their intuitive GUI, or get automatic alerts through the whole process.

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The concept is not new in the consumer world, but it’s much more complex to implement in the networking world. However, Outcome-Driven Networking now makes it possible and this can dramatically simplify and streamline network behaviour that would traditionally require network managers to manually configure each and every action on every node in the network to execute policies and achieve desired results.

Let’s look specifically at a corporate wide area network (WAN).Using Outcome-Driven Networking, businesses can now shape specific outcomes – such as “prioritise voice traffic between all branches” or “securely isolate financial data traffic from office and guest traffic.” All processes can now be simplified and executed via a central interface, with single-click commands.This eliminates the need to spend weeks sending out technicians to build and test those capabilities manually across every company site.

           Steps toward Outcome-Driven Networking

Technology evolves in many small steps. The creators of the first Ethernet network may have harboured some grand vision of universal networking, but what mattered at the time was they wanted a simple outcome: to link all the computers in a building to a central laser printer. From there it was a step-by-step development from coaxial cable to twisted pair, to wireless and ever increasing speeds, to the Ethernet as we know it today.

Network design and implementation has learned to follow that evolutionary sequence. The company begins with a network as “state of the art” as is needed, and then upgrades as useful capabilities or developments come onto the market. Among the most recent developments is the Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) that separates the control plane from the data plane to create a far more flexible and responsive network – an essential step towards Outcome-Driven Networking.

Outcome-Driven Networking provides a different mind-set, a new approach to WAN connectivity. Instead of planning any process or network change by thinking about each step that needs to be taken for it to happen and configure policies and nodes to ensure it happens, organizations need only to start with the desired outcome and allow the SD-WAN model to implement the necessary network modifications.This is what is called “outcome-driven networking.” The key tenet is that all the changes to the network and its control are dictated by the desired business outcome and the inherent intelligence, network behaviour analysis, and automation in SD-WAN propagates throughout the entire network.

Sophisticated SD-WAN solutions are available today that enable Outcome-Driven Networking, based on a set of key pillars: Abstraction and Automation, Ubiquity, Awareness and Self-Learning.

Abstraction requires being able to translate a desired outcome into the discrete actions that the network and any adjacent functional areas need to take. For example, understanding the context of an application-centric policy to determine the appropriate prioritization, network links, gateways, and security functions to be allocated. This abstraction layer is critical to aligning business outcomes to the underlying infrastructure, but it is not a simple task. It requires new levels of intelligence and comprehension.

Automation takes us way beyond replacing a standard Command Line Interface(CLI) with an intuitive Graphical User Interface (GUI) in order to accelerate the time to provision network and security functions. This is the way to migrate from manual device-by-device processes and maintenance windows that take weeks to complete, to policy-based automation that cuts network-wide deployment from weeks to minutes. As DevOps and cloud computing continue to force networks to be more agile, organizations are going to have to rely more on automated solutions leveraging application-centric policies to meet the needs of the business.

Ubiquity means that configurations and application-centric policies need to extend across the entire environment. Because organizations operate with globally dispersed data centres and branch offices – and most already use cloud computing – pervasive WAN connectivity is vital. So too is the ability to ensure that the desired outcomes and underlying configurations are intelligently deployed and maintained throughout. This means that systems need to maintain context, so that different configurations can be applied to different devices as long as the outcome criteria are met. To ensure appropriate outcomes, any new policies and attendant WAN configurations must be quick and easy to create and deploy across any complex global network in real-time.

Self-awareness and self-learning are needed to accelerate the prior decisions that will be accomplished by automated roll-out.Once the required business outcomes have been assessed by the network team, suitable policy and performance levels are carried out by Outcome-Driven Networking, which continues to monitor itself, learn and take corrective action in real-time rather than simply transmit a warning and wait for human intervention. This will reduce dependence on error-prone manual interactions.

The potential impact of Outcome-Driven Networking migration

There are so many potential benefits from Outcome-Driven Networking: the planning, analysis and decision-making saved by a self-learning system, the huge reduction in manual processes made possible by automation, the reduction in on-site technicians and truck rolls thanks to a central interface with ubiquitous reach, and not to mention the reduced downtime loss from a self monitoring and correcting network.

Let’s use an example from ESG’s recent white paper on Outcome-Driven Networking to illustrate this concept. Take a global enterprise with 75 remote sites as an example. Assume the original corporate network included legacy WAN solutions that back-hauled traffic to the data centre over dedicated MPLS circuits. Unless the company had spent a considerable amount on dedicated firewalls at each remote location as well as having sufficient IT staff with the skills to configure and operate those devices, we can assume that there was originally no network segmentation.

Using Cloud-Delivered SD-WAN, Outcome-Driven Networking allows segmentation of network traffic to mitigate risk by separating sensitive customer payment card or personal data from guest and corporate traffic – across the network. Depending on the size of the remote office, removing a firewall from each site could result in a savings of several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars per location..

Outcome-Driven Networking’s intelligent routing and service integration would also allow direct access to the cloud from remote offices, reducing the amount of traffic back-hauled to the data centre by as much as 20%, while eliminating the need for a router at each remote location.

Whereas rolling out services in the legacy environment was limited to deploying two to four sites per week. With Outcome-Driven Networking, once global policies have been defined, any devices rolled out to remote or cloud locations should not require manual configuration or reconfiguration of the network. Single-click secure provisioning means that deployment and time required for on-going operations are dramatically reduced. Instead of needing four to nine months to deploy to all 75 sites the same task could be completed in less than a week. As well as almost 95% time saving, this could accelerate the rollout of new revenue-producing applications, while freeing IT staff to focus on other strategic priorities.

Perhaps one of the hardest areas to quantify, but one that could yield the highest return, is the improvement in customer experience achieved by establishing priorities on an application-by-application basis (including SaaS or cloud-based applications) – such as ensuring that customer-facing voice and video applications are assured performance, even in the event of an outage. Given how impatient modern consumers are, ensuring consistently high performance will help to reduce churn.

Combining these benefits from the outcome-driven SD-WAN solution, an enterprise with 75 remote locations could save a lot of money, at least eight months deployment time, plus additional on-going savings from efficiencies (global policies, zero-touch, AI, and ML) and most importantly, improved customer experience.

The bigger picture

As the pace of business accelerates, organizations need innovative solutions to stay ahead. Digital transformation, cloud-based computing, and DevOps are all driving more agile and responsive IT services for business.

Beyond agile and responsive networking, business will need an intelligent solution that can actually address and maintain a desired business outcome. The WAN’s critical role makes it a strategic asset and IT teams must increasingly focus on the outcomes that impact business, rather than configuring and managing network devices in isolation.

Outcome-Driven Networking tightly aligns IT and the WAN with business goals. To make this transition, organizations need innovative technology capable of redirecting IT teams’ efforts from tedious, manual tasks for configuring and maintaining a reliable and secure WAN, to driving positive business outcomes. Outcome-Driven Networking marks the transition from complex, costly, and time-consuming manually operated WANs to fully automated, self-aware, and application-centric policy-driven SD-WAN environments.

The ultimate business outcome must be the continuing success in a highly competitive environment. Outcome-Driven Networking can power this initiative: Start with the business outcome and allow the network to handle the rest.