Awaiting SD-WAN & Campus Convergence

Smart City 3 WAN

By: R. Scott Raynovich

Last week at the Huawei Connect show in Shanghai, Huawei demonstrated a roadmap to unify the management of campus networking with software-defined wide-area (SD-WAN) networks into a common enterprise networking architecture. It got me thinking: Why aren't more people doing this? 

Of course, Huawei isn't the only company to express this view. Versa Networks has been talking about an integrated, collapsed "fat" branch in the enterprise that will help IT and network managers consolidate some of the hardware and applications used to connect at the edge. And some other vendors, such as Cradlepoint, have integrated SD-WAN and wireless networking technology. 

But the largest enterprise networking vendors with larger revenue streams and many pieces of this puzzle, such as Cisco and HPE, have been quiet on the issue of integration. Maybe that's because it's an issue for them. One could argue that they are heading in the opposite direction. I have already heard several complaints that even though Cisco has "integrated" its recent SD-WAN acquisition, Viptela, with its Nexus routing platform, it's still confusing that different management interfaces are still required for various Cisco networking products and router portfolios. And Cisco is still operating its campus wireless networking product, Meraki, as a separate unit. 

Then there is HPE, which has two brands of campus switches -- ProCurve and Aruba. Customers eagerly await an integration strategy there. And what about the SD-WAN? Unlike Cisco, HPE has yet to make a big move in SD-WAN. So there is no vision for how it will integrate campus networking with SD-WAN at the edge.  

The move is inevitable. SD-WAN and campus networking serve the same purpose -- they help connect enterprise networks. SD-WAN technology emerged as a way to reduce the cost of connecting to the WAN by optimizing and simplifying the management of WAN links into branch offices and data centers, as well as enabling it to be run on lower-cost hardware. There's no reason why it can't be managed using the same system for campus networking. 

Here's where Huawei has an interesting vision that might be well served by other large vendors. Huawei officials said the company is working on converging the two systems and stated that the management systems will be the same -- probably next year. 

"We are moving to intent-driven networking, this requires three layers: Infrastructure, cloud, and applications," Ajay Gupta, Huawei's director of product marketing for enterprise networking, told me. "To do that, two technologies, campus and the cloud managed network (CMN), are converging. The important part of intent-driven networking will be campus analytics, which was only wireless before. That will become wired and the infrastructure will be merged together."

In the next iteration of Cloud Campus, Huawei will use its single CMN interface for both its SD-WAN products and its campus networking offerings. 

Such a view raises questions about what the other major players will do. Cisco enterprise users have been griping about the confusing proliferation of interfaces -- Meraki, Cisco command-line interface (CLI), Viptela, etc. -- and how it makes managing networks more complex, rather than more simple. HPE, as discussed, is still viewed as a secondary player in enterprise networking and will need to have an SD-WAN play in order to gain credibility with Cisco and VMware ramping up efforts there. 

The mad rush to simplify and network the edge strengthens the case for the larger enterprise networking players to integrate more SD-WAN and analytics software -- and unify their management strategies. This provides many opportunities for some of the SD-WAN startups to position themselves as potential integrators of the mish-mash known as campus networking.