Author: Ian McLaughlin

Date: September 23, 2020

Cisco SD-WAN’s Cloud OnRamp for SaaS has already made great strides in optimizing users’ SaaS experience with features like direct internet access and automatic optimal path selection. These features enable admins to easily connect and integrate with many of the most popular SaaS platforms used by today’s businesses, including Microsoft 365.

Our customers have also called out challenges we could address to bring Cloud OnRamp for SaaS to the next level, as cloud-based computing increases in complexity and ubiquity. We’ve seen the performance challenges software suites like Microsoft 365 can bring, with multiple types of applications having varying sensitivities to network performance. Also, we heard clearly that users needed solutions to deal with each platform’s own metrics to better troubleshoot performance issues or architect superior solutions.

To address these issues, Cisco and Microsoft are rolling out several new features designed to improve the integration between Cisco SD-WAN Cloud OnRamp for SaaS and Microsoft 365. These enhancements will give users more control over traffic flow, insightful deeper metrics, and automated policy integration, allowing for a seamless experience with Microsoft 365. Let’s explore each of these improvements:

URL Categorization for Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 is one of the widest-used SaaS platforms among businesses and industries today, thanks to its ability to incorporate almost all the most commonly used applications under one umbrella (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Video, Outlook for Email, Exchange, and a host of others).

Of course, having multiple applications in one platform also means Microsoft 365 must juggle many different types of traffic at once—and that’s where users sometimes struggle with performance. When traffic accessing Word and traffic accessing videoconferencing are treated with the same parameters while occurring simultaneously, the resulting performance may be less than optimal.

Cisco’s new URL categorization feature provides significant improvement in this area for those who use Cloud OnRamp with Microsoft 365. Now available with Cisco SD-WAN’s 17.3 software release, URL categorization allows customers to create separate policies around specific types of traffic feeding into Microsoft 365, giving them more detailed control over traffic management within the platform. By creating different parameters for different traffic types, users can route traffic more efficiently around their needs and usage habits for optimized response times.

“The new Cisco SD-WAN and Microsoft 365 integration allows customers to easily remediate sub-optimal application performance. With informed network routing, customers can improve their end user experience via monitoring and automatic intervention whenever performance is deficient relative to Office 365’s specific expectations.” says JL Valente, Vice President of Product Management for Cisco Enterprise Networking.

Jim Kleewein, Technical Fellow for the Microsoft 365 team at Microsoft said,

“Cisco SD-WAN’s native integration with Microsoft 365 delivers direct access to Microsoft’s productivity services from any office, continually monitoring application performance. Using network telemetry, customers are now able to automate application route and firewall policies to dynamically steer traffic to the best path, for an improved end-user experience. Cisco SD-WAN Cloud OnRamp integration with Microsoft 365 application performance telemetry enables intelligent application classification and automation of best path selection with secure policy orchestration to deliver the most optimized experience.”

Informed Network Routing

Companies typically monitor the performance of their system through a handful of network metrics—and these can certainly be helpful, but they don’t tell the whole story. Network performance can impact application performance, but those numbers won’t tell us if improvements are needed within the application itself. Users would actually benefit more from knowing how the application itself is performing, rather than simply the performance of the network it’s running on.

Cisco SD-WAN will soon provide customers with application experience metrics (i.e. user-experience metrics) alongside network metrics; a new feature called “informed network routing”. By having both data sets readily available, Cisco SD-WAN can take a deeper dive into how well applications are performing and remediate sub-optimal performance with enhanced automated dynamic path selection—a feature only offered by Cisco SD-WAN. Furthermore, customers now have the opportunity to holistically address the performance of the most critical SaaS.

End Results

Taken together, and in alignment with the Microsoft 365 Network Connectivity Principles, these new developments will greatly streamline the customer experience when using Cisco SD-WAN Cloud OnRamp. Giving users deeper abilities to manage and route traffic within Microsoft 365 will improve speed, efficiency, and performance across the entire suite of applications. Allowing users the ability to see application-side metrics alongside network metrics will give them deeper insights into performance issues so they can create solutions for optimal performance. And automating the connection process with the integration of Cisco SD-WAN will help users spend less time configuring their connections and more time actually using them.

To participate in the public preview of the new Cisco and Microsoft 365 integration, contact us today: Contact Public Preview Release Team

Used with permission from Cisco.