Cloud-based SD-WAN continues rapid adoption
Cisco unveiled a new capability for their Meraki SD-WAN product to establish simple, secure cloud connectivity for businesses. The new capability is the result of a Cisco-Microsoft collaboration to integrate Cisco Meraki SD-WAN with the Microsoft Azure Virtual WAN service.
Cisco Meraki is the popular SD-WAN package aimed at CIOs and IT managers wanting to support so-called “lean IT environments” in an organization. Sold at a relatively low price point to mostly small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs), Cisco Meraki MX product suite combines branch connectivity, cybersecurity, management, orchestration, and automation support into a single SD-WAN appliance. By consolidating all of these various networking and security functions into a single box that configures itself and is centrally-managed from a cloud service, SMBs can use Cisco Meraki SD-WAN to connect branch office locations with very little (if any) onsite IT needed.
Why Cloud Connectivity for SD-WAN is important
The importance of cloud connectivity to Cisco Meraki cannot be overstated. Not only is it crucial for enabling the zero-touch configuration and orchestration of Cisco’s SD-WAN hardware, at a macro level the cloud is also key for controlling overall IT costs at SMBs. That’s why Cisco worked with Microsoft to integrate the Azure Virtual WAN Service into the Meraki product line. By establishing automated branch-to-Azure connectivity anywhere in the world from a Cisco Meraki SD-WAN box, IT managers at SMBs can more easily support their workloads running in Microsoft Azure cloud environments.
Azure is becoming the dark horse in the Cloud Networking Categories as businesses are reluctant to move to AWS.
Microsoft Azure is the underlying cloud infrastructure for all Microsoft productivity software used by businesses, including their extremely successful Office 365 apps and Microsoft Teams collaboration service that basically doubled their daily user count early in 2020—skyrocketing from around 40 million to close to 80 million users in less than three months. As SMBs adopt Microsoft services for their corporate users, the Azure Virtual WAN helps IT managers to provide optimized and automated branch connectivity to Microsoft cloud services. It’s a distributed cloud system, so there are multiple regional Azure points of presence acting as hubs to ensure local branches are never too many hops away from Microsoft services. Microsoft created the Azure Virtual WAN service to enable customers to access multiple Azure cloud connectivity services such as site-to-site VPN, User VPN (point-to-site), and the ExpressRoute direct cloud connections from a single operational interface.
Cisco and Microsoft partnered together on the Meraki-to-Azure Virtual WAN service means that SMBs can use their Meraki MX boxes at branch offices to get a direct connection into the Microsoft Azure cloud via an automated process. According to Cisco, the top advantages of the Meraki-to-Azure Virtual WAN integration are:
SD-WAN (Virtual WAN) Benefits for Meraki to Azure
- Simplicity: Cisco and Microsoft co-developed the software to automate the secure connection between Cisco Meraki MX appliances at branch locations and the Azure Virtual WAN service at scale. This plays to the strength of the Meraki SD-WAN product because rather than scheduling a truck-roll for installation an IT manager at an SMB can have any employee at the branch office can plug the Meraki box into the internet connection and it automatically is configured.
- Security: Cisco and Microsoft built secure connectivity between the branch location and the cloud into the automation workflow in a bid to optimize security and enable agility right out of the box.
- Orchestration: Thanks to the centralized orchestration features of the Cisco Meraki SD-WAN product, IT managers can use a cloud-based user interface to make changes on the Cisco Meraki MX appliances from their offices at headquarters (or anywhere they have an internet connection) which saves time and reduces the need for IT resources at the branch.
While the Cisco Meraki SD-WAN integration with Microsoft Azure Virtual WAN is good news for SMBs invested in the Meraki and Microsoft ecosystems, the offering is not unique. In 2019, Bay Area SD-WAN startup Aryaka debuted their Azure Virtual WAN connectivity with zero-touch provisioning and big names such as Citrix, Fortinet, HP Silver Peak, and Versa soon followed with their own integration support for Microsoft Azure Virtual WAN.