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Cisco Intelligent WAN Introduction


The Cisco Intelligent WAN (IWAN) solution provides design and implementation guidance for organizations looking to deploy wide area network (WAN) transport with a transport-independent design (TID), intelligent path control, application optimization, and secure encrypted communications between branch locations while reducing the operating cost of the WAN. IWAN takes full advantage of cost-effective transport services in order to increase bandwidth capacity without compromising performance, reliability, or security of collaboration or cloud-based applications.

Technology Use Cases

Organizations require the WAN to provide sufficient performance and reliability for the remote-site users to be effective in supporting the business. Although most of the applications and services that the remote-site worker uses are centrally located, the WAN design must provide the workforce with a common resource-access experience, regardless of location.

Carrier-based MPLS service is not always available or cost-effective for an organization to use exclusively for remote-site WAN connectivity. There are multiple WAN transport offerings that can be used simultaneously to create a robust, secure, and cost-effective WAN, including MPLS VPNs, Internet, Cellular (3G/LTE), and Carrier Ethernet. Internet-based IP VPNs offer attractive bandwidth pricing and can augment premium MPLS offerings or replace MPLS in some scenarios. A flexible network architecture should include all common WAN transport offerings as options without significantly increasing the complexity of the overall design.

While Internet IP VPN networks present an attractive option for effective WAN connectivity, anytime an organization sends data across a public network there is risk that the data will be compromised. Loss or corruption of data can result in a regulatory violation and can present a negative public image, either of which can have significant financial impact on an organization. Secure data transport over public networks like the Internet requires adequate encryption to protect business information.

Use Case: Secure Site-to-Site WAN Communications

This guide helps organizations connect remote sites over private (MPLS VPN) and public (Internet) IP networks, efficiently and securely.

This design guide enables the following network capabilities:

  • Secure, encrypted communications solutions for up to 2000 locations by using a dynamic multipoint VPN (DMVPN) IPsec tunnel overlay configuration
  • A multi-homed active-active connectivity solution for resiliency and efficient use of all WAN bandwidth, using single or dual routers in remote locations
  • Support for IP Multicast and replication performed on core, hub-site routers
  • Compatibility with public Internet networks where network address translation (NAT) is implemented.

Cisco Intelligent WAN Overview

With the advent of globalization, WANs have become a major artery for communication between remote offices and customers in any corner of the world. Additionally, with data center consolidation, applications are moving to centralized data centers and clouds. WANs now play an even more critical role, because business survival is dependent on the availability and performance of the network. Until now, the only way to get reliable connectivity with predictable performance was to take advantage of a private WAN using MPLS or leased line service. However, carrier-based MPLS and leased line services can be expensive and are not always cost-effective for an organization to use for WAN transport in order to support growing bandwidth requirements for remote-site connectivity. Organizations are looking for ways to lower operating budget while adequately providing the network transport for a remote site.

As bandwidth demands have increased, the Internet has become a much more stable platform, and the price to-performance gains are very attractive. However, businesses are primarily deploying “Internet as WAN” intheir smaller sites or as a backup path because of the risks. Now this cost-effective, performance-enhancing opportunity can be realized at all your branch offices with Cisco IWAN.

Cisco IWAN enables organizations to deliver an uncompromised experience over any connection. With Cisco IWAN IT organizations can provide more bandwidth to their branch office connections by using less expensive WAN transport options without affecting performance, security, or reliability. With the IWAN solution, traffic is dynamically routed based on application service-level agreement (SLA), endpoint type, and network conditions in order to deliver the best quality experience. The realized savings from IWAN not only pays for the infrastructure upgrades, but also frees resources for business innovation.


Transport Independence

Using DMVPN, IWAN provides capabilities for easy multi-homing over any carrier service offering, including MPLS, broadband, and cellular 3G/4G/LTE. More importantly, the design simplifies the routing design with a single routing control plane and minimal peering to providers, making it easy for organizations to mix and match and change providers and transport options. Two or more WAN transport providers are recommended in order to increase network availability up to 99.999%. Additionally, the Cisco DMVPN solution provides an industry proven and U.S. government FIPS 140-2 certified IPsec solution for data privacy and integrity protection, as well as automatic site-to-site IP security (IPsec) tunnels. These tunnels can be set up using pre-shared keys or using a public key infrastructure with a certificate authority in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in order to enroll and authorize the use of keys between routers.

Intelligent Path Control

Cisco Performance Routing (PfR) improves application delivery and WAN efficiency. PfR dynamically controls data packet forwarding decisions by looking at application type, performance, policies, and path status. PfR monitors the network performance—jitter, packet loss, and delay—and makes decisions to forward critical applications over the best-performing path based on the application policy. Cisco PfR can intelligently load balance traffic to efficiently use all available WAN bandwidth. IWAN intelligent path control is the key to providing a business-class WAN over Internet transport.

Application Optimization

Cisco Application Visibility and Control (AVC) and Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) provide application performance visibility and optimization over the WAN. With applications becoming increasingly opaque due to the increased reuse of well-known ports such as HTTP (port 80), static port classification of applications is no longer sufficient. Cisco AVC provides application awareness with deep packet inspection of traffic in order to identify and monitor applications’ performance. Cisco AVC allows IT to determine what traffic is running across the network, tune the network for business-critical services, and resolve network problems. With increased visibility into the applications on the network, better QoS and PfR policies can be enabled to help ensure that critical applications are properly prioritized across the network. Cisco WAAS provides application specific acceleration capabilities that improve response times while reducing WAN bandwidth requirements.

Secure Connectivity

Secure connectivity protects the corporate communications and offloads user traffic directly to the Internet. Strong IPsec encryption, zone-based firewalls, and strict access controls are used to protect the WAN over the public Internet. Routing remote-site users directly to the Internet improves public cloud application performance while reducing traffic over the WAN. Cisco Cloud Web Security (CWS) service provides a cloud-based web proxy to centrally manage and secure user traffic accessing the Internet.

Design Overview

The Cisco Intelligent WAN Design Guide provides a design that enables highly available, secure, and optimized connectivity for multiple remote-site local area networks (LANs).

Transport-Independent WAN Design

A transport-independent design simplifies the WAN deployment by using an IPsec VPN overlay over all WAN transport options including MPLS, Internet, and Cellular (3G/4G). A single VPN overlay reduces routing and security complexity, and provides flexibility in choosing providers and transport options. Cisco DMVPN provides the IWAN IPsec overlay. DMVPN makes use of multipoint generic routing encapsulation (mGRE) tunnels to interconnect the hub to all of the spoke routers. These mGRE tunnels are also sometimes referred to as DMVPN clouds in this context. This technology combination supports unicast, multicast, and broadcast IP, including the ability to run routing protocols within the tunnels.

Internet as WAN Transport

The Internet is essentially a large-scale public IP WAN composed of multiple interconnected service providers. The Internet can provide reliable high-performance connectivity between various locations, although it lacks any explicit guarantees for these connections. Despite its “best effort” nature, the Internet is a sensible choice for augmenting premium MPLS VPN transports or as a primary WAN transport in some cases. The IWAN architecture leverages two or more providers for resiliency and application availability. Provider path diversityprovides the foundation for PfR to route around fluctuations in the providers’ performance.

Internet connections are typically included in discussions relevant to the Internet edge, specifically for the primary site. Remote-site routers also commonly have Internet connections but do not provide the same breadth of services using the Internet. For security and other reasons, Internet access at remote sites is often routed through the primary site. This design guide uses both MPLS and the Internet for VPN site-to-site connections.

Dynamic Multipoint VPN

DMVPN is a solution for building scalable site-to-site VPNs that support a variety of applications. DMVPN is widely used for encrypted site-to-site connectivity over public or private IP networks and can be implemented on all WAN routers used in this design guide. DMVPN was selected for the secure overlay WAN solution because DMVPN supports on-demand full mesh connectivity over any carries transport with a simple hub-and-spoke configuration. DMVPN also supports spoke routers that have dynamically assigned IP addresses.

DMVPN makes use of multipoint generic routing encapsulation (mGRE) tunnels to interconnect the hub to all of the spoke routers. These mGRE tunnels are also sometimes referred to as DMVPN clouds in this context. This technology combination supports unicast, multicast, and broadcast IP, including the ability to run routing protocols within the tunnels.


The WAN transports mentioned previously use Ethernet as a standard media type. Ethernet is becoming a dominant carrier handoff in many markets and it is relevant to include Ethernet as the primary media in the tested architectures. Much of the discussion in this guide can also be applied to non-Ethernet media (such as T1/E1, DS-3, OC-3, and so on), but they are not explicitly discussed.

WAN-Aggregation Designs

The first design model is the IWAN Hybrid, which uses MPLS paired with Internet VPN as WAN transports. In this design model, the MPLS WAN can provide more bandwidth for the critical classes of services needed for key applications and can provide SLA guarantees for these applications. The second design model is the IWAN Dual Internet, which uses a pair of Internet service providers to further reduce cost while maintaining a high level of resiliency for the WAN.

IP Multicast

IP Multicast allows a single IP data stream to be replicated by the infrastructure (routers and switches) and sent from a single source to multiple receivers. IP Multicast is much more efficient than multiple individual unicast streams or a broadcast stream that would propagate everywhere. IP telephony music on hold (MOH) and IP video broadcast streaming are two examples of IP Multicast applications.

To receive a particular IP Multicast data stream, end hosts must join a multicast group by sending an Internet group management protocol (IGMP) message to their local multicast router. In a traditional IP Multicast design, the local router consults another router in the network acting as a rendezvous point (RP). An RP maps the receivers to active sources so the end hosts can join their streams.

The RP is a control-plane operation that should be placed in the core of the network or close to the IP Multicast sources on a pair of Layer 3 switches or routers. IP Multicast routing begins at the distribution layer if the access layer is Layer 2 and provides connectivity to the IP Multicast RP. In designs without a core layer, the distribution layer performs the RP function.

This design is fully enabled for a single global scope deployment of IP Multicast. The design uses an Anycast RP implementation strategy. This strategy provides load sharing and redundancy in protocol-independent multicast sparse mode (PIM SM) networks. Two RPs share the load for source registration and the ability to act as hot backup routers for each other. The benefit of this strategy from the WAN perspective is that all IP routing devices within the WAN use an identical configuration referencing the Anycast RPs. IP PIM-SM is enabled on all interfaces including loopbacks, VLANs and sub-interfaces.

Quality of Service

Most users perceive the network as just a transport utility mechanism to shift data from point A to point B as fast as it can. Many sum this up as just “speeds and feeds.” While it is true that IP networks forward traffic on a best-effort basis by default, this type of routing only works well for applications that adapt gracefully to variations in latency, jitter, and loss. However networks are multiservice by design and support real-time voice and video as well as data traffic. The difference is that real-time applications require packets to be delivered within the specified delay, jitter, and loss parameters. In reality, the network affects all traffic flows and must be aware of end-user requirements and services being offered. Even with unlimited bandwidth, time-sensitive applications are affected by jitter, delay, and packet loss.

Quality of service (QoS) enables a multitude of user services and applications to coexist on the same network. Within the architecture, there are connectivity options that provide advanced classification, prioritizing, queuing, and congestion-avoidance as part of the integrated QoS in order to help ensure optimal use of network resources. This functionality allows for the differentiation of applications, ensuring that each has the appropriate share of the network resources to protect the user experience and ensure the consistent operations of  business critical applications.

QoS is an essential function of the network infrastructure devices used throughout this architecture. QoS enables a multitude of user services and applications, including real-time voice, high-quality video, and delay sensitive data to coexist on the same network. In order for the network to provide predictable, measurable, and sometimes guaranteed services, it must manage bandwidth, delay, jitter, and loss parameters.

There are twelve common service classes that are grouped together based on interface speed, available queues, and device capabilities. The treatment of the twelve classes can be adjusted according to the policies of your organization. Cisco recommends marking your traffic in a granular manner to make it easier to make the appropriate queuing decisions at different places in the network. The goal of this design is to allow you to enable voice, video, critical data applications, bulk data applications and management traffic on the network, either during the initial deployment or later, with minimal system impact and engineering effort.

Per-Tunnel QoS for DMVPN

The Per-Tunnel QoS for DMVPN feature allows the configuration of a QoS policy on a DMVPN hub on a per-tunnel (spoke) basis. This feature allows you to apply a QoS policy on a tunnel instance (per-endpoint or per-spoke basis) in the egress direction for DMVPN hub-to-spoke tunnels. The QoS policy on a tunnel instance allows you to shape the tunnel traffic to individual spokes (parent policy) and to differentiate between traffic classes within the tunnel for appropriate treatment (child policy).

With simplified configurations, the hub site is prevented from sending more traffic than any single remote site can handle. This ensures high bandwidth hub sites do not overrun remote-sites with lower bandwidth allocations.

Intelligent Path Control

Intelligent path control improves application delivery and WAN efficiency using PfR. PfR uses policies to dynamically control data packet forwarding by looking at application type, performance, and path status. PfR continuously monitors the network performance for jitter, packet loss and delay, and then it makes decisions to forward critical applications over the best performing path based on the application policy. PfR can evenly distribute traffic to maintain equivalent link utilization levels by using an advanced load balancing technique, even over links with differing bandwidth capacities.

Overall IWAN Architecture Design Goals

Overlay Transport (DMVPN)

All remote-site traffic must be encrypted when transported over public IP networks such as the Internet. This design also encrypts traffic over private IP networks such as MPLS and 4G LTE. It is recommended that you enable encryption on DMVPN over all paths in order to ensure consistency in data privacy and operations. The use of encryption should not limit the performance or availability of a remote-site application and should be transparent to end users.

IP Routing (EIGRP)

The design has the following IP routing goals:

  • Provide optimal routing connectivity from primary WAN-aggregation sites to all remote locations
  • Isolate WAN routing topology changes from other portions of the network
  • Ensure active/standby symmetric routing when multiple paths exist, for ease of troubleshooting and to prevent oversubscription of IP telephony call admission control (CAC) limits
  • Provide a solid underlying IP routed topology in order to support the Intelligent Path Control provided by Cisco Performance Routing.
  • Provide site-site remote routing via the primary WAN-aggregation site (hub-and-spoke model)
  • Permit optimal direct site-site remote routing (spoke-to-spoke model)
  • Support IP Multicast sourced from the primary WAN-aggregation site

At the WAN remote sites, there is no local Internet access for web browsing or cloud services. This model is referred to as a centralized Internet model. It is worth noting that sites with Internet/DMVPN could potentially provide local Internet capability; however, for this design, only encrypted traffic to other DMVPN sites is permitted to use the Internet link. In the centralized Internet model, a default route is advertised to the WAN remote sites in addition to the internal routes from the data center and campus. The use of local Internet access is covered separately from this guide. The network must tolerate single failure conditions including the failure of any single WAN transport link or any single network device at the primary WAN-aggregation site.

Quality of Service

The network must ensure that business applications perform across the WAN during times of network congestion. Traffic must be classified and queued and the WAN connection must be shaped to operate within the capabilities of the connection. When the WAN design uses a service provider offering with QoS, the WAN edge QoS classification and treatment must align to the service provider in order to ensure consistent end-toend QoS treatment of traffic.

Path Optimization (Performance Routing)

The network must protect business critical applications from fluctuating WAN performance by using the best performing path based on the application policy.

The design must also intelligently load-balance traffic in order to reduce an organization’s overall communications expenses by allowing them to use a less expensive Internet transport without negatively affecting their mission critical traffic.

Remote sites classified as single-router, dual-link must be able tolerate the loss of either WAN transport. Remote sites classified as dual-router, dual-link must be able to tolerate the loss of either an edge router or a WAN transport.

LAN Access

All remote sites support both wired and wireless LAN access.


 The IWAN is evolved as SDWAN in overall network architecture.

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