Deploying new technology at school districts takes years of planning, but Philip Neufeld of the Fresno (Calif.) Unified School District has firm plans to deploy software-defined wide area networks.
SD-WANs replace traditional device-based command line interface (CLI) 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.
Neufeld, executive director of IT for the district, says SD-WANs promise to improve overall network efficiency. “I see this as a fundamental shift in the networking paradigm — almost as big a deal as when we went from wireline to wireless,” he says.
Fresno USD has several stages of approval for funding, which includes a pending E-Rate application to fund new network equipment. Neufeld hopes that once he obtains approval later this year, the district can plan the implementation. “We will spend the next couple of years developing our IT staff’s skills to use these new SD-WAN technologies, and by 2018, we should be ready for deployment,” he says.
Ready to Upgrade? Choose Your Path
School districts have many paths to improve WAN performance with software-defined WANs. Some opt to deploy SD-WANs virtually. Others select an established manufacturer that incorporates the intelligence into existing routers and firewalls, and 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.
Neufeld says Fresno USD plans to go with the intelligent WAN (iWAN) solution that’s incorporated into Cisco Systems switches. He says the technology offers the ability to improve the resiliency of broadband services to the district’s 110 sites, as well as more intelligent routing and targeted, dynamic policy management.
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.