Cisco Brings Webex Collaboration to SD-WAN Cloud Program
The dramatic shift to remote work brought on two years ago by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to almost overnight not only adapt their business models but also to focus on technologies that would allow them and their employees to operate productively and securely.
That included embracing connectivity solutions to ensure access to the applications and data critical for getting the job done and collaboration tools to enable employees to more easily work together even if they were located many miles apart.
All that has accelerated the growth in such markets at software-defined networking (SD-WAN) and video conferencing and remote communications offerings like Microsoft Teams, Cisco System’s Webex and Zoom. Reliance on such technologies will only grow, given that many companies expect to continue a hybrid work environment even after the pandemic lifts.
Jeevan Sharma, senior manager of product management for SD-WAN and cloud networking at Cisco, in a blog post this week pointed to numbers from Gartner that showed that 48% of employees are expected to work remotely post-pandemic and that hybrid workplaces will become commonplace.
“In this new norm, seamless communication and collaboration will be the bare minimum for enterprises to achieve workforce productivity and engagement,” Sharma wrote.
Webex and SD-WAN
Given that, company officials said they were bringing Webex collaboration software into its Cloud OnRamp portfolio, which is a significant part of Cisco’s SD-WAN efforts. Cloud OnRamp is a way for remote workers and those in sites like branch offices to access cloud-based applications, providing not only connectivity but also security through such tools as application-aware firewalls, intrusion detection and protection, and advanced malware protection.
Webex has now become a key productivity application that remote workers can access through the cloud.
“With a growing distributed workforce, collaboration technology is an enabler, yet providing a secure, fast and reliable experience for collaboration apps is a top challenge IT teams face today,” Raj Gulani, senior director of product management for SD-WAN and secure-access service edge (SASE) at Cisco, told The New Stack in an email. “Furthermore, there is a massive opportunity to create seamless hybrid work experiences for 3 billion digital workers and we believe they can all participate equally in the global economy through inclusive technologies like Webex, regardless of their geography, language preference, personality type, socio-economic level or technical proficiency.”
In all, there are now 14 cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications supported by Cloud OnRamp, with much of the focus being on those from such cloud providers as Microsoft (including Microsoft 365) and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Now Cisco is adding Webex to the list.
Better Cloud Application Performance
SD-WAN Cloud OnRamp is designed to segregate the application traffic of the support applications — including Webex — from generic internet traffic and routes the Webex traffic through the best path with the lowest latency available from a specific branch router. The goal is to ensure a high-quality and secure collaboration experience regardless of where the workers are located.
Enterprises also will be able to take advantage of the analytics and visibility into the Webex application’s performance through the capabilities in the Cloud OnRamp offering.
The combination of Webex and SD-WAN technology from Cisco addresses a key concern of enterprises, which not only want secure access for their distributed applications in a hybrid cloud environment but also a good collaboration experience for remote workers, Cisco’s Gulani said.
“They want reliable, and predictable audio-video calls, irrespective of the variance introduced by different WAN connectivity transports,” he said.
The integration between Webex and SD-WAN also will deliver a DevOps-friendly solution, according to Gulani. Before, developers who were building a new layer or feature on top of Webex had to manually identify the Webex traffic and then apply network and security policies on top of it.
“With Cloud OnRamp, the SD-WAN edge router automatically identifies Webex streams and enforces application optimization policies through rich RESTful APIs to intelligently route the traffic through the most optimized wide area network,” Gulani said. “Over time, we envision that Webex analytics could flag when a certain set of users behind a network subnet has issues with their network link and this data can be used by developers to provide better insights and potentially enable automation of SD-WAN policy configuration.”
In his blog, Sharma wrote that Cisco will enhance the Webex-SD-WAN solution by incorporating even more granular network analytics and application-level telemetry for the collaboration software, which will improve visibility into the network and the performance of the application.
“This will provide network administrators deeper insight and detailed telemetry for troubleshooting user performance to deliver a better application experience,” he wrote.
SD-WAN a Fast-Growing Market
SD-WAN over the past several years has become a fast-growing and highly competitive part of the larger software-defined networking (SDN) space, fueled by demand for better performance and security for applications in the cloud and the increasingly decentralized nature of IT and the global workforce. There was a dip in demand in the first half of 2020 as the pandemic began to rage around the world, but growth since then has returned.
Market research firm Futuriom is expecting the market to grow an average of 34% a year between now and 2023 when it will hit $4.6 billion. In addition, analysts with Dell’Oro Group said revenues in the SD-WAN space jumped 45 percent year-over-year in the third quarter of 2021.
“The SD-WAN market is now ready to enter into its next phase of growth as it overlaps and extends into new markets, including multicloud networking and the movement known as Secure Access Service Edge (SASE),” Scott Raynovich, chief technology analyst for Futuriom, wrote in a report. “This leaves room for SD-WAN to expand as a platform to provide just about any virtualized network service that can be accessed in the cloud.”
SASE essentially combines SD-WAN and network security functions, including encryption, firewalls, URL filtering, anti-malware and antivirus, and cloud access security brokers (CASBs).
According to Dell’Oro, Cisco remains in the top spot for SD-WAN revenue. The company over the past several years has aggressively built out its portfolio through internal development and acquisitions of such companies as Meraki in 2012, pure-play vendor Viptela in 2017, Duo Security a year later and ThousandEyes in 2020.
However, it’s a highly competitive market with a range of established vendors in play, including VMware, Juniper Networks, Extreme Networks and Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Aruba Networks business. In addition, a growing number of service providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, are offering their own SD-WAN services that they either developed themselves or acquired via partnerships or acquisitions.