New SDN Use Case: Handling COVID-19 Pandemic Traffic Upsurge

The software-defined networking (SDN) approach has been credited as being instrumental in various use cases, but AT&T is trumpeting a new one: handling the immense upsurge in network traffic (700 percent for a VPN service) resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"You don't design a network for a pandemic. But it turns out that building your network on software and open hardware specifications can help make it ready for just about anything," said the company in an April 2 blog post.

The company is amid a years-long effort to switch to the SDN model and all its accompanying acronyms, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), network functions virtualization (NFV) and so on.

Basic tenets of the approach, of course, include disaggregation of the control pane in the networking stack, disaggregation of hardware/software, open-source software and white-box hardware instead of monolithic proprietary systems, and so on.

AT&T touched on such topics in its post this week. "AT&T has been virtualizing our network functions -- turning them into apps," it said. "For the remaining hardware, we've been adopting a 'white box' approach. In this model, instead of using proprietary devices tightly coupled to proprietary software from just a handful of vendors, we've created open specifications and released them publicly so a variety of manufacturers can compete and innovate."

Last year, the company announced its conversion to software-centric networking was on track to virtualize and "software control" 75 percent of its core network operations by 2020.

This week, AT&T said the new model helped it cope with increased demand for network data, but the pandemic brought on new, different challenges, such as the mass migration to work-at-home schemes, resulting in a surge for virtual private networks (VPNs).

ANIRA Graphic
[Click on image for larger view.] ANIRA Graphic (source: AT&T).

Key to the effort in meeting that demand is ANIRA, a cloud-based software platform featuring a plug-and-play, self-configuring, white-box gateway:

AT&T offers a Network-based IP Remote Access VPN called SD-WAN Static Network Based (ANIRA). ANIRA uses an industry-standard capability known as IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) to authenticate and encrypt data packets over the broadband network. The service can work with a software client application that runs on the user's laptop or a hardware device, called AT&T Global Network Client. The white box, or gateway, that works with the service can be placed on the customer's premises and support multiple users and various broadband access methods (e.g., cellular or wired broadband).

It reportedly helped the company meet a 700-percent increase in the number of ANIRA customer connections.

"It's been the ultimate proof point for our push into software-centric networking, and I couldn't be prouder of what our team has done for our customers," said Andre Fuetsch, author of the post.

And AT&T isn't the only company touting the benefits of the software-centric networking. Nemertes, a global research-based advisory and consulting firm, this week published an article titled "Covid-19 Accelerates Shift to New Normal: SD-WAN and Cloud Networking."

Speaking about SD-WAN along with direct cloud connects (DCC) and WAN-cloud exchanges (WAN-CX), Nemertes explained the new order.

"These technologies (SD-WAN, DCC, WAN-CX) constitute a new normal for enterprise networking. Organizations roll them out with the twin goals of improving application performance (especially for those applications still in data centers) and improving WAN availability while also simplifying WAN management. Our research finds these organizations are, indeed, significantly more likely to be successful in delivering WAN services."

Also, Cato Networks, a secure access service edge (SASE) specialist, earlier this month announced an "Instant Access" feature that it said provided the first SASE-based clientless access service to help organizations support enterprise remote workers.

"With the global health crisis, enterprises are looking to deploy work-from-home capabilities at scale. Cato has seen remote access adoption more than double since the outbreak of COVID-19. The enhancements to Cato SDP will further help IT leaders to quickly deliver secure remote access at scale to their employees across the globe," said Shlomo Kramer, CEO and co-founder of Cato Networks.

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.


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