Branch-in-a-Box: Why All-in-One Devices Are the Future of Networking

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A branch network consists of many moving pieces that need to be remotely deployed, managed, and supported. That typically means separate devices for all the key functions like routing, switching, security, etc. However, as data and applications grow more distributed—especially due to the popularity of edge computing—it becomes harder for IT teams to keep up with the growing number of vendors and solutions at the branch. Branch-in-a-box seeks to solve that problem by delivering all your branch networking functions in an all-in-one device.

What is branch-in-a-box?

Branch-in-a-box consolidates an entire branch networking technology stack into one piece of hardware. A branch-in-a-box solution might include gateway routing, voice and data switching, firewall, Wi-Fi, and other crucial functionalities. Instead of learning, installing, managing, and troubleshooting five different boxes at each branch location, you only have to worry about one core device.

Next-generation branch-in-a-box solutions typically rely on the following branch networking technologies:

  • SD-WAN: Software-defined wide area networking, or SD-WAN, abstracts WAN management from the underlying MPLS, broadband, fiber, and cellular connection hardware. You can create intelligent routing policies to distribute and route WAN traffic for optimal network performance, with SD-WAN. SD-WAN intelligent routing also facilitates cloud-based edge security technologies like SSE (security service edge) and SASE (secure access service edge).
  • SD-Branch: The limitation of SD-WAN is that its capabilities generally end at the branch gateway. SD-Branch extends your software-defined networking functionality into the individual LANs so you can automatically manage and optimize traffic within the branch.
  • Compute: Some branch-in-a-box solutions also come with compute capabilities or modules. Meanign you can run guest operating systems—like VMs (virtual machines) and containers—without needing to install additional server hardware.
  • Out-of-Band: Out-of-band (OOB) separates your branch network’s management plane from the data plane so you can remotely manage and troubleshoot your branch infrastructure from a dedicated connection. With OOB, you get one unified control panel from which to remotely monitor and administer all your branch networking devices. OOB also provides an alternative path to your branch network, often over a cellular connection, so you don’t need to rely on the primary WAN link. You can troubleshoot and recover from outages remotely, reducing costly truck rolls.

SD-WAN optimizes traffic to and from the branch, ensuring optimal performance and productivity in all your remote locations. SD-Branch extends your reach into the individual branch LANs to give you more control over network routing and performance. Compute capabilities let you run VMs and containers without deploying additional servers. Finally, OOB ensures you always have access to your branch infrastructure, even during a WAN outage. A branch-in-a-box solution harnesses those technologies to give you control over a consolidated networking stack including routing, switching, firewall, and Wi-Fi capabilities.

Where did the concept of branch-in-a-box come from?

Let’s say the typical branch network relies on five boxes—a gateway router, a voice switch, a data switch, a wireless access point (AP), and a firewall. Five devices may not seem like a lot; and using a separate box for each branch networking job means you can, theoretically, choose the best-of-breed solution for each. If you only have one or two branch locations and a large, well-trained IT staff, then supporting multiple branch networking devices probably won’t be a problem.

But what happens when your business grows, and you need to scale up to 10 branches? And then 100 branches? And then 1,000? Suddenly, five best-of-breed devices turns into 5,000 individual boxes you need to purchase, configure, maintain, and troubleshoot.

Branch-in-a-box solves this problem by rolling-up all your crucial branch networking devices into one consolidated solution. This helps you save money on equipment, both in terms of the up-front costs and the recurring costs of licensing, software, and support. Device consolidation can also decrease the power consumption at your branches, saving you energy costs and reducing your carbon footprint. Deploying a branch-in-a-box is often faster and easier since you only need to ship and install one box instead of five.

Plus, an all-in-one branch networking solution reduces the overall complexity of your enterprise network by decreasing the number of devices and platforms that your engineers need to learn, manage, and support. That means your IT operations team can work more efficiently, spending less time on individual maintenance tasks and more time optimizing your branch networking. It also reduces the risk of configuration mistakes and other human errors that could potentially bring down your branches.

The challenge of branch-in-a-box

Of course, when you replace many different boxes with one solution, you run the risk of vendor lock-in. Suppose your branch-in-a-box solution runs in a closed ecosystem. In that case, it’s critical for that one box to truly cover every branch networking capability you need, because you won’t be able to extend its capabilities with third-party tools and devices. Plus, you’ll be forced to follow that vendor’s feature and support roadmap, which may diverge from your organization’s future goals and requirements.

To avoid these issues, it’s crucial to select a vendor-neutral branch-in-a-box that runs on an open platform, like Nodegrid.

Innovative and vendor-neutral branch networking

Nodegrid is a family of open-architecture, vendor-neutral networking solutions for branch, edge, and datacenter. All Nodegrid Services Routers consolidate multiple features and functionalities into one box so you can streamline your network infrastructure and reduce the complexity of your branches. For example, the Hive SR is a next-generation branch-in-a-box that can host many essential functions on one compact device, including:

Gateway routing

SD-WAN with AutoVPN

Wi-FI Access Point

5G/4G/LTE

Secure out-of-band access

Firewall

Nodegrid also simplifies branch network management by providing a centralized, vendor-neutral platform from which to monitor, control, and troubleshoot your global network. ZPE Cloud gives your team access to all Nodegrid-connected devices from anywhere in the world through a secure, cloud-based web portal. Or you can use the on-premises Nodegrid Manager to gain complete control over every aspect of your branch network.

Plus, Nodegrid devices like the Hive SR run on the Linux-based Nodegrid OS. This open architecture supports easy integrations with third-party solutions. That means you can extend the device’s capabilities to include automation, orchestration, SSE, and other functions, allowing Nodegrid to scale with your organization.

Nodegrid delivers branch-in-a-box solutions through all-in-one hardware, consolidated management, and a completely open and extensible platform that scales on-demand.

Contact ZPE Systems today to view a free demo of Nodegrid branch-in-a-box in action.

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