Extreme Networks Inc. recently announced it has integrated network fabric capabilities into its ExtremeCloud SD-WAN or software-defined wide-area network, allowing customers to extend the network fabric securely across the end-to-end network, which includes the data centers, campus network and branch locations.
Extreme’s fabric came to it as a data center solution, via its acquisition of Avaya’s networking business. The company then extended it to the campus network and now the WAN.
The fabric is based on the industry-standard shortest-path bridging and removes the need for protocols such as BPG, MPLS, PIM, 802.1 and VLANs. The technology acts as a true overlay “fabric” where every point is securely connected to every other, so if connectivity needs to be established between two points, it can be done through a simple graphical user interface, in this case ExtremeCloud IQ.
The concept of the fabric has been embraced with storage networking, where downtime is unacceptable and performance needs to be guaranteed, but data networks have long survived on “best effort” capabilities. Given the importance of the network today, the properties of a fabric are now critical to business operations.
With this release, customers can now extend network fabric natively to branch locations, while getting all the application performance benefits of an SD-WAN. The enhanced solution includes automated workflows with a simplified user interface and experience, as well as direct connectivity to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and other cloud providers. One of the bigger benefits to Extreme customers is that they can manage and provision everything in one place.
“The idea is to bring one network to life through fabric,” said Dan DeBacker, senior vice president of products at Extreme. “We initially extended fabric to the wiring closet and now we’re extending fabric from the campus to the branch. We’re not doing a fabric attach or tunneling or going through a VPN. The fabric is there to connect users to applications, so whether that user is on the campus or in the branch, it’s the same fabric connecting the same application all the way across.”
This is important for user experience because application performance is predicated on good network performance from the user’s device all the way to the cloud. Historically, network operations teams have managed each network subdomain, such as the WAN, campus and data center, as discrete entities. This made sense from an organizational perspective but created a headache when troubleshooting network issues. With and end-to-end fabric, management, visibility and security is done across the network versus the individual domains.
ExtremeCloud SD-WAN uses technology the company acquired from Ipanema in 2022. The solution comes with appliances, an operating and orchestration platform, security, and maintenance and support. It’s centrally managed by ExtremeCloud IQ, which uses artificial intelligence for information technology operations across wired, wireless and SD-WAN networks.
The infusion of Extreme’s Fabric Connect with the SD-WAN automates discovery and configuration of fabric-enabled switches and wireless access points. Extreme is running Fabric Connect directly over an SD-WAN into branch locations with fabric-enabled switches that tie back to the data center and the campus. The same exact fabric is used throughout, which means customers can extend connectivity to new sites without sacrificing security and app performance.
“We’ve also enhanced zero-touch fabric provisioning, so there’s nothing for customers to plug in,” said DeBacker. “We want to continue evolving the fabric everywhere concept with one network, so that customers will be able to easily provision their SD-WAN infrastructure and get all the benefits.”
Although the target market is Extreme’s current customer base, there are many organizations that require this type of connectivity, according to DeBacker — for example, a K-12 school that wants to onboard all of its switches or a healthcare provider that wants to set up multiple remote clinics. Both organizations can manage everything as one network using the fabric capabilities. This should enable Extreme to its WAN solution to attract new customers, something it hasn’t been able to do to date.
Another enhancement Extreme has in the works this year is to extend the fabric natively to Wi-Fi 7. The vendor sees Wi-Fi 7 enabling new enterprise-grade services like multilink operation, where multiple Wi-Fi links could be used to lower latency, increase reliability and boost throughput. Wi-Fi 7 devices will also use spectrum located in the 6-gigahertz band with a seven-lane superhighway for Wi-Fi users.
In tech, the past six months has brought a tremendous amount of bad news with many vendors laying off double-digit percentages of their workers. One of the few bright spots has been networking. Extreme, Arista Networks Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.’s enterprise business have all seen strong growth.
In my discussion with IT pros, business finally understand the value the network can bring to digital initiatives and this mandates investment in modernization. The WAN had been a missing piece of Extreme’s portfolio, but it filled that gap in 2022. The extension of the fabric creates a strong end-to-end story for the company.
Zeus Kerravala is a principal analyst at ZK Research, a division of Kerravala Consulting. He wrote this analysis for SiliconANGLE.