At Thomas College in Waterville, Maine, CIO Chris Rhoda sees the potential of software-defined wide area networks.
SD-WANs replace traditional command line interface configurations with centralized control and orchestration. Because IT managers gain control and visibility into the network, they can manage it centrally without having to make site visits.
Colleges and universities have many paths to improve WAN performance with SD-WANs. Some opt to deploy SD-WANs virtually. Others, like Thomas College, select an established manufacturer that incorporates the intelligence into existing routers and firewalls, while still others pick low-cost branch office applications provided by startup vendors. Whichever SD-WAN option an organization chooses, they all aim to use the technology to reduce overhead and streamline network bottlenecks.
In early 2015, Rhoda and his team created an SD-WAN between the college’s SonicWall firewall in the data center and Microsoft Azure infrastructure. The connection runs over a 10 Gigabit Ethernet backbone on campus to dual 100 Gigabit Internet2 links to Microsoft’s East Coast data center in Virginia.
Rhoda says with this setup, the 1,000 students his team supports can access data across the WAN from Azure just as they would on a local area network. “We created a VPN tunnel from our campus to Azure,” he says. “It’s encrypted on both sides, so it’s fully secure. Basically, we’re just extending our local area networks out to the cloud.”
Andrew Lerner, a research director who covers networking infrastructure for Gartner, says that while SD-WANs aren’t necessarily new, they bundle existing technologies in a way that improves WAN performance. “We’re seeing that SD-WANs really make economic sense for a lot of organizations,” he says. “I think with the software-defined networking trend, we’re going to see a lot more adoption on the WAN side than we had anticipated.”
Dan Conde, an analyst who covers enterprise network technologies for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says SD-WANs provide savings through the following reductions:
“We’re seeing that SD-WANs really make economic sense for a lot of organizations,” Conde says.