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Software Defined Access (SDA) – A new approach

Software Defined Access (SDA) – A new approach

Cisco Software defined Access (SDA) is Cisco’s next generation enterprise Local Area Network (LAN) Solution. However, to make such a comment detracts from the capabilities of the platform as it offers a wealth of features above and beyond typical LAN functionality including integrated security, network wide visibility, wireless integration, and centralised automation to mention but a few. The system is designed and built around the Intent Based Networking (IBN) model. This is the emerging industry framework for the next generation of networking. Intent-based networking captures and translates business intent into network policies that can be automated and applied consistently across the network, enabling rapid and consistent deployment standards estate wide. A definition of what an Intent-based networking system incorporates, requires the following x4 elements:

  • Translation and Validation – The system takes a higher-level business policy (what) as input from end users and converts it to the necessary network configuration (how). The system then generates and validates the resulting design and configuration for correctness.
  • Automated Implementation – The system can configure the appropriate network changes (how) across existing network infrastructure. This is typically done via network automation and/or network orchestration.
  • Awareness of Network State – The system ingests real-time network status for systems under its administrative control and is protocol- and transport-agnostic.
  • Assurance and Dynamic Optimization/Remediation– The system continuously validates (in real time) that the original business intent of the system is being met and can take corrective actions (such as blocking traffic, modifying network capacity, or notifying) when desired intent is not met.

With the evolution of technology rapidly progressing and pushing the boundaries of what is possible, the infrastructure supporting the wave of this transformation is not necessarily able to keep pace with such advancements. We are seeing more and more devices connecting to our networks, creating issues of scale. IoT is becoming more and more predominant in the workplace with intelligent lighting and heating becoming the norm, mobile devices, wireless access demands, collaboration and video quality are all expectations placed on the network. In addition, the consumption of cloud services such as IaaS, SaaS and PaaS have extended the network boundary from traditional on premises perimeters to perimeters in the cloud. It is typically the role of the network/security engineers to ensure that the required connectivity is available to meet the business demands, however this must be done in a secure fashion. Based on the growth of expectation this task has become overwhelming for the network and security teams, and they need a new approach if they are to keep up with the demands.

The reality of a modern network can be seen in the image below.

  • Multiple device types all requiring network access, segmentation, security etc
  • Collaboration tools and services such as printing all accommodated by the network, all with different access requirements and policy such as QoS etc
  • Emergence of IoT devices, IP surveillance etc all now IP based, and require network access,
  • More and more untrusted devices are requiring access to the network creating security risks, and management overhead.
  • Cloud and on prem application portfolios are expanding adding additional load to the network, which increases the demand for stability, rapid deployment, and application quality of service.
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