What is Catalyst SD-WAN (formerly Viptela) and how does it work?

What is Catalyst SD-WAN (formerly Viptela) and how does it work?

The increased use of multiple cloud environments for business software and applications combined with the volume of consumers and different devices demanding reliable, fast connectivity has put an enormous strain on IT infrastructure. Overly complex networks that need to link highly disparate devices and servers can’t also provide speed and consistency while using outdated architecture. By necessity, networks must simplify the complexity of demands while providing efficiency and a high level of security to deal with the increased risk of cybercrime.

Cisco’s Catalyst SD-WAN is one way to address these challenges. This advanced networking solution is based on Viptela, the SD-WAN platform that Cisco acquired back in 2017. Viptela was originally part of Cisco’s Integrated Service Router (ISR) offering but now has integrated with Cisco+ Secure Connect to provide secure access service edge (SASE) architecture. Cisco’s goal is to replace ISR-based networks with SD-WAN alternatives within the next year or so.

SD-WAN stands for Software-Defined Wide Area Networking and utilizes software rather than hardware to handle security and control of transferred data. This could save businesses significant expenses by making distributed networks more agile, adaptable, and easier to manage. 

Core features of Catalyst SD-WAN

Catalyst SD-WAN provides centralized management and orchestration. This means that anyone with the right level of authorization can access and adjust the network as needed from just about anywhere. An online interface allows network administrators to change settings, such as prioritizing specific data types to reduce latency.

Catalyst also offers Application-Aware routing. This is an intelligent form of policy-based routing which tracks path characteristics of data plane tunnels between devices and uses the resulting information to create optimal paths. Characteristics of paths might include reduced jitter or packet loss.

Another feature of Catalyst SD-WAN is Zero-Touch Provisioning. This is the automation of the installation or upgrading of software that needs to be deployed on the network. Reducing the need for manual configuration limits the risk of human error.

One of the primary draws for businesses and other organizations is the robust security protocols offered by Catalyst. At least 61% of enterprises reported a 25% increase in threats of cybercrime over the last three years. Security has to be a key consideration for all companies, even those who want to prioritize speed and efficiency above other factors. 

SD-WAN technology, specifically this rebranding of Viptela as Catalyst SD-WAN, brings all these features under one umbrella, combining effective connectivity with automation and high-level security.

How Catalyst SD-WAN works

Catalyst SD-WAN works by abstracting the hardware associated with traditional data centers into a software-based control layer or plane accessible from virtually anywhere. This control layer is facilitated via vSmart controllers. “V” here stands for virtual, and a vSmart controller refers to a virtual tool that exists to supply the relevant encryption across the network and apply relevant policies as needed. In current documentation, vSmart controllers are also referred to simply as Catalyst Controllers. 

Cisco promotes its vEdge routers as capable of handling SD-WAN connectivity. VEdge routers can be physical routers, but can also refer to virtual machines or other network components. They exist close to the perimeter of the network, establishing a secure overlay network for multiple methods of data transfer. There are also some traditional routers that run Viptela-based software which makes them compatible with Catalyst SD-WAN architecture.

We’ve mentioned the ability to connect from anywhere to maintain and adjust the network. This is achieved via Cisco vManage, an online dashboard that combines network administration, data analytics, and automation in one interface. It’s highly graphical and intuitive and allows administrators to quickly set and deploy centralized network and security policies. 

The final primary piece of Catalyst’s architecture is the Cisco SD-WAN Validator or vBond orchestrator. This is a virtual device that authenticates other devices on the network or that are trying to connect to the network. It’s the link between the Catalyst Controllers and the vEdge routers, establishing secure and reliable connections.

Benefits of adopting Catalyst SD-WAN

Why is Catalyst SD-WAN so attractive to so many organizations? A key factor is the potential for enhanced application performance. When you reduce the complexity of a network, you reduce the risk of latency and other connectivity issues. Anything a business can do to improve the experience for end users will greatly increase the chance of boosting a brand’s reputation and reduce the risk of disgruntled consumers heading to the competition.

SD-WAN solutions also make it much easier for businesses to integrate their apps and SaaS services with multiple cloud environments. Centralized management of networks reduces the requirement for backhauling connections through data centers, a process that slows data transfer rates considerably.

As well as better user experiences and simpler deployment, SD-WAN is cheaper thanks to more efficient bandwidth usage. Simplifying the data transfer process means managing less data, which naturally brings network management costs down.

Another potential cost factor is how tricky it is to maintain and fix a network. Catalyst SD-WAN reduces the risk of errors via extensive automation of configuration and deployment but also increases observability, even across massively distributed systems. 

Use cases: Real-world applications of Catalyst SD-WAN

Of course, businesses require incentives to completely overhaul their IT infrastructure. That’s why Cisco has helpfully included several case studies in their product literature that highlight the benefits for different types of organizations or use cases. These scenarios are fictitious but help IT professionals and business leaders understand the benefits of SD-WAN.

For example, to showcase the security potential of Catalyst, Cisco invents Tidal Pharmaceuticals, a large-scale enterprise in the healthcare sector. One of the primary factors of this use case study is the consideration of the DevSecOps approach, in other words, including security teams in the consideration of WAN procurement. They talk about the “Castle and Moat” mentality, which only works when everything of importance is behind a single perimeter, i.e., on-premises and behind a firewall. With distributed systems, this is impossible. That’s why SD-WAN’s security protocols are designed with cloud computing in mind, to protect from threats both outside and within the network. In this made-up scenario, the pharmaceutical company utilized SD-WAN fabric to protect against worm propagation, data hoarding, unauthorized access, and lateral threat movement.

For organizations with multiple branch locations and highly distributed systems, the benefits of SD-WAN are clear. Reducing the complexity of data between multiple facilities, devices, and users cuts the required bandwidth dramatically while minimizing the volume of latency and bad connectivity complaints.

Catalyst SD-WAN can also help with cloud migration for organizations moving their in-house resources online. Instead of escalating costs driven by ever-more complex network requirements, SD-WAN helps keep everything simple and allows businesses to grow their networks without worrying about jitter or sharply rising costs.

By transforming traditional backhauling methods via data centers and physical devices into abstract, edge-computing adjacent architecture, businesses could bolster their bottom line while increasing the ability to branch out further than ever before—without losing the great connectivity they and their consumers have become used to.If you’re invested in increasing the efficiency and observability of your IT infrastructure, talk to LogicMonitor about our solutions for automation, cloud migration, and more.