Shifting to Virtual Networking for the Work from Home Movement

How to deploy manageable SDN and NFV infrastructures for greater business continuity and security

John Hanahan

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many IT organizations struggling to support the huge influx of remote worker internet traffic coming in through corporate firewalls to virtual public networks (VPNs). They are challenged to keep business running as usual in a very unusual world, all while warding off a new rash of phishing and DDoS security threats and relying on a skeleton crew of essential workers in their data centers.

For those enterprises that are still heavily reliant on a physical network infrastructure, these challenges can seem daunting. But businesses that have already transformed many of their critical network capabilities (e.g., SD-WANs, firewalls, cloud-to-cloud routing) from physical to virtual are seeing benefits that they may have never imagined.

Trends for SD-WAN and NFV for Enterprise Network Services

This Gartner Market Trends report emphasizes the correlation between the increasing growth of software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) and internet in enterprise WAN, and competition in service management.

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SD-WAN products provide a better solution to traditional routers that deploy and manage hybrid or pure internet-based WANs, which also brings more flexible and agile WAN edge management capabilities. Gartner

Managing greater, more distributed traffic flows with SDN and NFV technologies

In today’s telecommuting environment, the internet has become a critical access point for remote workers to connect with corporate networks, clouds and business-critical applications. Collaboration applications, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and video and content streaming platforms, such as YouTube and Netflix, have suddenly become mission-critical for billions of remote users.

Whether you are a white- or blue-collar worker, an educator or student, a doctor or patient – these tools are now vital to everything you do. This new, more highly distributed networking environment can be brutal on unyielding physical networks that lack the ability to provision capacity or redirect network traffic or security control policies on the fly.

According to Gartner, “SD-WAN products provide a better solution to traditional routers that deploy and manage hybrid or pure internet-based WANs, which also brings more flexible and agile WAN edge management capabilities.”i

Even before COVID-19, virtual, software-defined networks were becoming increasingly important to enterprise digital transformation objectives. SDN and NFV technologies make it easier to provision and manage distributed network resources and data traffic for less cost. SDN enables granular control of networks, allowing segmentation to differentiate among security settings based on sources of network traffic or the sensitivity of the information being accessed – a capability that is critical to securing the current remote worker environment. Virtual networks dynamically prioritize traffic based on workload processing demands, enabling real-time processing at the edge for urgent use cases and re-directing those that can tolerate greater latency.

As enterprises struggle with the management of more widely-distributed network end points and growing dynamic data traffic management and security demands, SDN and NFV solutions offer growing advantages. Their remote, end-to-end network management and security capabilities, along with fast provisioning, deployment and optimized network resources, help ensure business continuity during volatile times.

How virtual networks maintain business continuity

The shifting dynamics of how, where and when remote users are accessing networks and clouds, and the amount of traffic being exchanged across them, means that both networks and cloud resources need to be spun up on-demand. Business continuity and continuous service delivery require networks to scale to meet new workload demands in the same seamless way cloud services do. Fortunately, this is the hallmark strength of virtual networking. For example, with SD-WANs, bandwidth capacity and new networking devices and routes can be added in just minutes to accommodate changing user demands.

Another exciting business continuity benefit of virtual networks is the ability to enable automation via open, programmable APIs. Virtual networking processes that are well-defined and repeatable, such as automatic network bandwidth provisioning and traffic shaping, can be automated via these flexible tools.

How virtual networks ensure greater VPN capacity and security

According to Gartner “Enterprises need to rearchitect their network security for cloud, internet and SD-WAN which is creating opportunities for convergence of WAN edge and network security services.”[i]
This especially urgent in this COVID-19 “shelter in place” environment. Today’s corporate VPNs were designed for a low percentage of remote workers who may be traveling on business or logging-in from home after hours. They were certainly not architected to handle a large majority of a company’s employees, in some cases 100%, accessing VPNs remotely. Fortunately, many NFV security devices, such as firewalls, can act as virtual private network (VPN) aggregators to increase VPN capacity for remote workers accessing on-premises and cloud-based applications.

For example, one of our security partners, Fortinet, provides a secure virtual firewall/remote access appliance that can supplement your current VPN capacity. When used with Network Edge services from Equinix and the Equinix Cloud Exchange Customer Portal, you can easily deploy the FortiGate Remote Access firewall solution in minutes, and provide threat protection from the network edge to the data center to the cloud, while increasing your VPN capacity.

Taking the next steps towards virtual networking

There is really no downside to experimenting with virtual networking to do something such as cloud access via an SD-WAN or cloud-to-cloud routing  ̶  especially if you see your remote users experiencing performance problems while accessing mission-critical applications from the cloud. With today’s flexible, low-cost virtual networking solutions, the risk is very low and the rewards are extremely high.

Learn more about SDN and NFV solutions by reading Gartner Market Trends: SD-WAN and NFV for Enterprise Network Services Report.

Also, check out these video demonstrations by World Wide Technology (WWT) on how deploy a virtual Cisco SD-WAN and Fortinet FortiGate Firewall virtual devices using Equinix Network Edge:

  1. Learn how to deploy a virtual Cisco SD-WAN with Equinix Network Edge
  2. See how easy it is to setup a Fortinet Fortigate Firewall with Equinix Network Edge

i Gartner, “Market Trends: SD-WAN and NFV for Enterprise Network Services Published,” Analyst(s): Gaspar Valdivia, To Chee Eng, 30 January 2020 ID: G00387262.

John Hanahan
John Hanahan Sr Director, Product Management at Equinix