In the past few years, the software-defined WAN market has undergone tremendous change. Amid a rapid cycle of market consolidation, leading networking vendors acquired startups and their pioneering products and turned them into a menu of production-worthy services.
Many established networking vendors now offer SD-WAN, but that doesn't mean the edge technology can simply be deployed with no consideration for the underlying architecture. Knowing if SD-WAN is right for your enterprise requires some significant hands-on work because every environment is unique, with different topology or functional elements that need to be understood, such as firewalls, routers and overall connectivity concerns.
While an SD-WAN is simply an overlay to an existing WAN -- providing a virtual control plane for wide area communications -- it does not simply plug in. Vendors recognize this complexity and offer SD-WAN labs that enable network administrators to learn and test the architectures first, often in virtual sandboxes.
In addition to SD-WAN labs, most vendors offer tutorials and templates that help networking staff get up to speed on the technology. Through the tutorials and labs, developers gain a critical understanding of the environment, including its config rules, best practices, APIs and even CLI capabilities.
Let's look at some of the market's leading SD-WAN products and what their labs have to offer.
Cisco's acquisitions over the past few years have enabled it to jump-start its SD-WAN strategy and put the vendor at the front of the pack with one of the most comprehensive SD-WAN portfolios. The Cisco SD-WAN options are plentiful with both Viptela and Meraki products providing the virtual functionality.
The following tools are all part of the Cisco offering:
- vEdge, a cloud-based software router;
- vManage, Cisco's REST API;
- vBond, which initiates the edge devices; and
- vSmart, an intelligent control plane.
Cisco offers SD-WAN API Learning Labs, a set of online sessions that cover SD-WAN with relation to the REST API, Postman, Python and even development of SD-WAN applications. Cisco also has an online sandbox using its Emulated Virtual Environment Next Generation, or EVE-NG, to replicate a complete SD-WAN environment, where developers can develop and test their applications.
The VMware SD-WAN strategy relies on Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), which combines SD-WAN, VPN and other technologies into a single edge function covering both communications and security. The VMware service encompasses VMware SD-WAN Gateway, SD-WAN Edge, SD-WAN Orchestrator and SD-WAN Client.
VMware offers an online lab where customers can test-drive the capabilities of different VMware products. The hands-on experience begins with the "Getting started with SD-WAN" module, a 2-hour, 45-minute session that enables network teams to test-drive VMware's functionality.
Juniper's acquisition of Mist helped position its SD-WAN offering as "AI-driven." Additionally, Juniper's acquisition of Apstra has enabled better software automation across a network platform.
Juniper customers can view the vendor's SD-WAN capabilities through an online test-drive functionality in which Juniper offers demos of functions such as Full Stack Branch, MSP Dashboard, WAN Assurance and other features.
Aruba also wraps its SD-WAN capability into a SASE strategy tied together through Aruba EdgeConnect SD-WAN Fabric. This strategy solidified as HPE/Aruba acquired Silver Peak.
EdgeConnect offers a unified SD-WAN fabric through dedicated EdgeConnect devices. As opposed to other vendors that host a dedicated lab functionality and sandboxes, Aruba offers a series of free videos through its YouTube account that covers "SD-Branch from Scratch." The series of nine videos walks users through the different functionalities.
The benefit of SD-WAN labs
In addition to these vendors, businesses may find SD-WAN options from many other networking providers, such as Citrix, Fortinet, Palo Alto and more. At this point, most of the companies that provide WAN connectivity have their own SD-WAN option or have partnered to provide this functionality.
For businesses, the important point to understand is SD-WAN is becoming a pervasive technology. However, because of the complexities of most enterprise networks, organizations may still experience a few bumps in the road between concept and execution of SD-WAN. Therefore, online labs, and especially online sandboxes, are a great way to kick the tires before making the plunge into an SD-WAN or SASE deployment.