Cisco - Software-Defined Access

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By R2 Unified Technologies

What is Cisco SDA, and When is it Used?

Many organizations are choosing to adopt cloud-based and SaaS systems for connectivity and ease of use, but others are seeing critical value in investing in on-prem infrastructure as well. Clunky on-premises networks that require all workers to be in a single building at all times are being rapidly outpaced by modern infrastructure design. Maintaining connection quality can quickly grow complex when dealing with different programs, systems, and networks. Cisco Software Defined Architecture (SDA) looks to remove all the complications within your campus switching environment.

What is SDA?

The clearest way to define the Cisco SDA meaning is that it extends the virtualization of the access layer for a company’s network through the Digital Network Architecture (DNA) center. You can separate the functions required for handling data, management, and control.

Enterprises have come to rely on it to create an efficient network. Organizations can rely on a single product to handle analysis, access policy control, endpoint monitoring, and network segmentation. There are several major components to Cisco SDA.

Getting Cisco SD-Access configured correctly requires purchasing the necessary routers, switches, and APs. Most companies who already use some form of Cisco technology should have no trouble integrating it with SDA. Maintaining finite control over endpoints, users, and networks is essential for organizations looking to add Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile device management (MDM) to their networks.

What are the Benefits of Cisco SD-Access?

The primary purpose of Cisco SD-Access is to make it easier for admins to deal with access management protocols. Some of the main benefits provided by Cisco SDA include the following:

Network Segmentation

Companies can use Cisco SD-Access’s multi-level segmentation and group-based access to isolate and protect information from outside threats. Removing the potential of a bad actor using the information for harmful purposes reduces the risk for companies. If a hacker manages to compromise a user device, it only affects that part of the network and protects the rest.

Traffic Analysis

Cisco SDA gives administrators the tools necessary for accurately identifying, profiling, and grouping endpoints. They can define specific access policies, then use the artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities of Cisco SD-Access to learn from traffic and user behavior. The information collected puts companies in a better position to become more efficient at detecting malicious threats to their IT infrastructure.

Ongoing Endpoint Monitoring and Trust Verification

Cisco SDA comes with AI and machine language (ML) technology that learns from continuous monitoring of endpoints. The processes become better at mobile device management and endpoint monitoring by using automation to verify connections.

Better User Experience

Automating user access policy tasks makes things easier for administrators. They can obtain a seamless connection experience regardless of what device they use or where they connect from. Admins can also become more effective at monitoring what’s happening around access within the organization.


How Does SDA Architecture Work?

Cisco SD-Access consists of two main components. The Campus Fabric Solution contains features for controlling data, management, and policy planes needed to run the network infrastructure. You then use the Cisco DNA Center to manage everything.

Below is an overview of the layers that make up Cisco SDA architecture.


The physical layer of Cisco SDA relies on network elements like switches, servers, routers, and WLAN controllers. Any network devices participating in the network fabric should be capable of supporting the network layer.


The network layer is made up of an underlay and an overlay network. The underlay network transports data packets between network devices within the overlay layer. For that reason, you want your underlay network configured for performance, scalability, and availability to avoid negative impacts on the SDA fabric overlay.

The virtual and tunneled overlay network creates an SDA fabric that enables policy-based network segmentation, host mobility for wired and wireless networks, and increased network security versus a traditional network's switching and routing abilities.


There are three components to the controller layer. Cisco’s Network Control Platform (NCP) provides the fabric, network automation, and orchestration services for the SDA’s physical and network layers. NCP is also responsible for the following:

  • Configuring and managing network devices
  • Providing network automation status
  • Sending relevant information to the management layer

Cisco’s Network Data Platform (NDP) collects information, figures out historical trends, and reviews and connects network events from different sources like NetFlow. Finally, the Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) provides identity and policy services for the physical and network layers. ISE also uses Network Access Control (NAC) and identity services to provide a policy definition and endpoint-to-group mapping.


The management layer user interface (UI) provides users with a dashboard that gives them visibility into the information around the physical, network, and controller layers of Cisco SDA. It also contains tools and workflows to help users operate and manage their Cisco DNA network.

How Can You Use Cisco SD-Access?

Below are some industry examples of how companies can apply Cisco SDA within their organization.


Companies can move sensitive patient data over to a cloud platform. That makes it accessible to other providers within specific regions. Admins can still maintain access policies that align with compliance policies around who can look at the information.

Government Entities

Many government agencies rely on Cisco ADA to unite, secure, and streamline their wireless network operations. The workforce can maintain critical communications and data transfer capabilities from various office branches or the field.


Pharmaceutical companies can segment company resources to simplify network operations for an acquisition, a common practice within the industry. SD-Access lets businesses segment resources during the process, then change policies while uniting various entities after completing the acquisition.


Manufacturing companies rely on various resources, like data centers and IoT devices, to run. Cisco ADA segments traffic to help businesses keep up with time-critical processes, stop the spread of malware, and maintain secure access to critical business applications for workers.

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