Jan 25 2016

University Uses Software-Defined WANs to Extend LANs to the Cloud

Thomas College’s network enables students to quickly access data from Microsoft Azure.

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.


The percentage of enterprises that will use software-defined wide area networks in all of their branches by the end of 2019, up from less than 1%today

SOURCE: Gartner, “Market Guide for Software-Defined WAN,” December 2015

Tunneling to the Cloud

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.” 

Explore the Benefits of SD-WAN

Dan Conde, an analyst who covers enterprise network technologies for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says SD-WANs provide savings through the following reductions:

  • Network connections: As companies move to the cloud and Internet-based technologies, it doesn’t make sense to link costly multiprotocol label-switching lines to data centers. Reducing the number of lines and moving to less expensive Internet connections saves money.
  • Branch hardware: Virtual deployments eliminate the need for new hardware such as firewalls and virtual private networks in branches.
  • Site visits: All SD-WAN technologies are developed for remote management, which requires far fewer site visits by IT staff.
  • Data center equipment: Some SD-WAN services can also be hosted in the cloud, so organizations don’t need as much on-premises equipment in data centers.

“We’re seeing that SD-WANs really make economic sense for a lot of organizations,” Conde says.


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