Contributing author
Piyush Raj, Product Manager
Cisco SD-WAN

The world of SaaS is exploding as hybrid work is becoming a new normal. As per Gartner (1), end-user spending on public cloud services is expected to be close to $400B in 2021, out of which the largest chunk of over 35% is being spent on SaaS. Enterprises are getting accustomed to using a number of SaaS applications as they embrace the “as a service” consumption model which brings them ease of use and accessibility to applications from anywhere.

Among these SaaS applications, collaboration applications such as Microsoft Teams and Webex by Cisco are paramount for hybrid work and are top of mind for enterprises. So are other apps which contribute to employee productivity such as Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint. Undeniably, the Microsoft 365 suite of applications are the top SaaS apps used by the enterprises. Previously, these apps were hosted in corporate data centers, but now with Microsoft offering these as cloud hosted SaaS apps, these apps can be accessed from anywhere.

Optimization via multipath from SD-WAN fabric to datacenter or branch/campus to Microsoft Teams and SharePoint

The movement of these applications to cloud brings its own set of challenges for Enterprise IT, as application performance becomes a prime concern for customers. Enterprises may have multiple options to route traffic from branch sites to these SaaS applications. They may backhaul the SaaS traffic through a corporate data center to run it through a security stack or they may send the traffic to a regional data center first or allow users at the remote branch to directly access SaaS apps over internet. This introduces path selection problem as it is difficult for network admin to assess which path is best performing at any given point in time and should be used to access the SaaS applications for best user experience. Also, if the path performance degrades, then how can they switch to an alternate better performing path so that the application experience for the user is not degraded.

To overcome these challenges, Cisco introduced Cloud OnRamp for Microsoft 365 which uses proactive and continuous link probing to assess the best performing path at any point in time. It also allows network admin to utilize Microsoft URL categories granularity for categorizing the Microsoft 365 apps into Optimize, Allow and Default categories. While active link probing makes sure that the best performing path is always selected, URL categorization helps to determine what Microsoft Apps should go directly to the internet and what Apps should go through a security stack in the customer data center before going to the internet. However, the buck does not stop here.

Probing a link helps networking vendors in collecting path performance data such as link latency and loss from the network’s vantage point. What it does not tell a networking vendor is how the link is performing from the application point of view. To overcome this limitation and to close the loop, Microsoft introduced Informed Network Routing to allows them to share real Microsoft 365 app feedback telemetry with networking vendors and to receive network link telemetry from them. Using Informed Network Routing, customers can opt-in to allow Microsoft to share application telemetry with Cisco, and Cisco to share network link telemetry with Microsoft. This gives Cisco additional visibility and app telemetry data to make informed decisions for best path selection.

Cisco started this journey as the first networking vendor with Microsoft to integrate Informed Network Routing for Microsoft Exchange service area starting with SD-WAN 20.4.x release. With the SD-WAN 20.7.x release, Cisco is further expanding this partnership to bring integration for Microsoft Teams and SharePoint service areas, as the first and only SD-WAN vendor do so. Microsoft recently announced General Availability for Informed Network Routing with Cisco as their launch partner. This brings a double bonanza for customers looking to utilize this capability to further enhance Microsoft 365 application experience for their users.

“I am excited to announce that the integration between Cisco SD-WAN and Microsoft Informed Network Routing now includes support for Microsoft Teams and SharePoint app telemetry. This update will help us deliver an improved end-user experience through enhanced cloud connectivity.
The partnership between Microsoft 365 and Cisco SD-WAN further enhances your Microsoft Teams and SharePoint experience by optimizing routing and path selection beyond traditional network telemetry probes”
– Jeff Mealiffe, Principal Architect, Microsoft 365 Core Networking

Cloud OnRamp for Microsoft 365 = Informed Network routing + URL Categorization + Active Link Probing

Cisco SD-WAN is Microsoft Network Partner Program (NPP) certified and also a Microsoft 365 networking partner. As part of this program, Cisco SD-WAN aligns with the Microsoft’s Connectivity Principles aimed at helping Microsoft 365 customers achieve optimal end-user experience. Active path probing with URL categorization for granularity and Informed Network Routing using real application traffic will ensure that enterprises now have everything they need for optimal routing and path selection to Microsoft 365 Apps and enhanced end user experience. Customers can use vAnalytics dashboard to get an insight into application experience view based on the application and network link telemetry data exchange.

Feel free to contact our team about the integration: microsoft365_public_preview@external.cisco.com.

Interested in trying out Informed Network Routing and URL categorization for Microsoft 365 apps?

Try it out using our Cloud OnRamp sandbox.

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(1) Gartner Says Four Trends Are Shaping the Future of Public Cloud



Jeevan Sharma

Senior Manager, Product Management

Cisco SD-WAN and Cloud Networking