Network-as-a-Utility: Plug & Play Wired and Wireless Enterprise Networking

Praveen Jain, Founder & CEO @ WiteSand

Among the many lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is that employees can work productively from home. One enabling factor is that most of the applications they use are hosted in the public cloud or in private data centers. Microsoft Office 365, Google Workspaces, Slack, and email, as well as HR tools, employees benefits apps, and even equity management apps are all delivered from the cloud.

At home, employees work with plug-n-play routers provided and managed by their ISP and may add their own access points. Network provisioning is accomplished remotely by the ISP. Connection is simple.

What is so different about the office or campus that makes the networking environment so operationally complex? Some differences one might cite include:

  • Scale – Depending on the number of employees and the size of the facility, a large number of switches, routers, and Wi-Fi access points may be required
  • Zero Trust – A building or campus network needs to make allowance for the network connectivity needs of visiting guests and headless IoT endpoints while protecting the company’s proprietary information
  • Wired Connectivity – Most company sites will have at least some wired elements, including displays, cameras, and videoconferencing systems
  • Mix of Network Hardware – Many enterprise networks have accumulated switches, routers, and access points over time, representing different models or even different vendors, whether through organic company growth or corporate acquisitions

To make Network-as-a-Utility for the enterprise a reality, it must offer plug & play simplicity similar to a home network. Here are the important considerations:

Plug-n-Play of Any Endpoint

Enterprise networks typically feature at least some static configurations. An example: A TV in a conference room is connected via wired and manually assigned to VLAN 10 and switch port eth1/1.

Static configs pose many challenges

  • A guest could disconnect the TV in conference room, attach their own laptop, and happily join the network via a connection not authorized for that purpose
  • The configuration is tied to specific VLAN/port numbers, and must be repeated in a similar fashion for other devices in the same office and across multiple offices 
  • Network security rules, thus, must be applied for each VLAN/Port, and repeated for all offices
  • If you happen to have a different product portfolio from the same switch/Wi-Fi vendor, or multiple vendors, across your different offices, you need to provision these rules differently.
  • If you need to replace broken networking hardware, all of this needs to be redone as new hardware may not be compatible with respect to port count, SKU, etc.

No wonder, it is an operational nightmare to maintain the environment.

A true plug-and-play solution would handle things differently. For instance, there could be a high level policy implemented like this: When a TV is detected in the network, it is only allowed to communicate with the Internet, while an unknown endpoint is prevented from connecting to the network.

The Power of Templates and Labels to Achieve Consistent Policies

Do you really care what VLAN # or which IP address is assigned to any device or user in the network? It’s not a typical consideration in the home network. Unfortunately, since every building on a campus may have separate subnets, VLANs, and other identifiers, you are forced to repeat the configuration and associated operational tasks once per site at least.

This is where the power of templates and labels comes in. Back to our thesis on policy above, once you define a high level policy, independent of any identifiers, you would apply it consistently across all locations worldwide. If a new location comes up, it will inherit the same. You may still want the flexibility to have a separate set of templates/labels for certain sites for local governance or other reasons.

Plug & Play of Switches and Wi-Fi Hardware

While multi-vendor is a reality in the campus, the features that get used across wired and wireless hardware are fairly standard. The changing traffic pattern is further reducing the need for the sprawl of legacy or custom feature knobs from hardware vendors. Moreover, the interfaces from these hardware are open, often used by customers today to manually operate the network. All this makes it easier to deliver networking as a utility, powered by cloud software.

However, by no means are day to day operations in the campus simple: Manually configuring port-channels, trunks, VLANs on trunks, setting port properties, defining what is uplink vs front facing link, dealing with VLAN mismatch with APs, managing firmwares, and the list goes on.

All of these are well known needs, and can be auto-discovered and auto-configured with best practices including power-on-self-provisioning of hardware, and replacing failed hardware without any tech personnel onsite. Ideally, this should be done across equipment from multiple vendors, or multiple hardware SKUs of hardware from a single vendor, and performed consistently across all the sites in the network.

Data Mining, AIOps, and Root Cause Analysis

Data is a gold mine. If we are able to pull all the networking data, contextualize it, run it through automated rules and AI engines, we are able to provide automated root cause analysis, identify violations, and prescribe remedial actions. Further, these intelligent insights can be sent to Slack, Teams, Splunk or any such destination in your enterprise network workflow. 

A Single Dashboard with Worldwide Visibility

Ultimately, the need is a single portal for your worldwide locations with 360 degree view of all devices and users on the network, their activity, and health to realize networking-as-a-utility.

Installation and Hardware Subscription Services

In the same way that a home network is delivered as a utility by an ISP, campus networking can and should be delivered as a fully-managed service, allowing companies to focus on their business priorities. The solutions could be provided by ISPs and independent managed service providers, or even included in full service leases by real estate companies.

The WiteSand Approach

WiteSand’s SaaS enables the delivery of plug & play enterprise networking – wired and wireless – while automatically administering consistent policies worldwide. The unprecedented visibility into the network and its health, as well as automated root cause analysis, is where the power of AI/ML meets cloud scale and agility. WiteSand’s multi-vendor support, with no lift and shift of wired or wireless hardware, magically cloudifies your network, offering plug & play simplicity with unparalleled operational efficiency. Additionally, WiteSand allows network managers to go back and forth in history with the industry’s first Network Time Machine. 

WiteSand has partnered with global MSPs which offer businesses complete installation, setup, and subscription hardware from the vendor of your choice. If you choose to convert your wired and wireless networking environment to a flat monthly fee, we have that option too. 

Network-as-a-Utility is here, available now from WiteSand and its channel partners.

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