Thursday, 9th July 2020

Connecting to the future – how SD-WAN can transform enterprise networks in the UK

How we embrace change determines our success. It is an inescapable aspect of the technology industry. By Nick Johnson, CEO, Evolving Networks.

While trends come and go, the move to large-scale cloud-adoption is here to stay, opening up a new, flexible level of access to software-based services, applications and systems. The agility this enables can be transformative, but it has to be founded on faster, better-performing and more reliable connectivity. If networks are slow, the purpose of moving into the cloud is defeated.

Resilient connectivity is now a business-critical requirement. Unplanned downtime and unreliable data speeds damages employee morale, customer trust and most importantly - the bottom line. It can break an organisation.

MPLS is now yesterday’s solution

This makes it imperative that organisations address how they connect with the cloud. The traditional use of MPLS for IP transport is no longer adequate, especially when businesses rely on voice and video services. Its cost is high, it takes a long time to install, and it causes problems with the integration of internet and cloud access.

Enterprises and businesses that have deployed MPLS to enable their WAN find it cumbersome and only as good as the provider’s network and engineers.  The technology at the core of MPLS does not offer the flexibility that a modern enterprise requires.

The excessive rigidity of MPLS WANs is also a real drawback, providing no level of control when it comes to packet prioritisation. This is vital for the modern businesses running VoIP phones alongside other connectivity-dependent and cloud-based services.

As a result, businesses (especially those with multiple sites) are clamouring for more bandwidth, better value and improved reliability when it comes to their connectivity.

SD-WAN – the next-generation in connectivity

In the search for something better, stronger and more agile, SD-WAN, is the natural next step in an era of software-defined everything. This is a rapidly growing market sector, with Gartner predicting that spending on SD-WAN products will reach $1.24 billion in the next few years (2020), which is a massive leap from the $129 million spent in 2016.

Being a newer technology SD-WAN is far more flexible, more cost-effective and resilient than MPLS.

It excels when deployed across multi-path aggregated connectivity and is ideal for connecting multiple sites. Being scalable, sites and additional lines can be added quickly and cost-effectively. Stable, low latency connections are the norm and it is easily integrated with public cloud.

Currently, SD-WAN is more prominent in the US, where infrastructure is more sympathetic. But businesses in the UK need not miss out. SD-WAN just needs to be done differently here.

SD-WAN in the UK

One problem is that vendors in the UK are using software developed in the US, based on higher quality broadband infrastructure. But another part of the challenge is the number of links in the chain needed to deploy it. The more vendors, the greater potential there is for conflict, complications and complexity. 

The SD-WAN software that optimises a network still needs to be hosted in a datacentre and businesses need to source the actual connectivity from an ISP, or two, or three, depending on resilience requirements. Another vendor may be needed if monitoring and management of the WAN technology is necessary.  Add in modem configuration and firmware management, along with diagnosing and fixing circuit faults when they arise, and it quickly becomes cumbersome. And that’s before you’ve actually learned how to drive the SD-WAN software.

Such complexity should be avoided wherever possible. It should not be necessary to work with multiple vendors, SLAs and support teams when SD-WAN is replacing MPLS. Instead, businesses should work with one supplier possessing the local knowledge and expertise to help deliver the obvious advantages of SD-WAN.  There is no point trying to ram a US solution into the UK context. It will not deliver.

SD-WAN is enabling the future

Tech businesses know they need to embrace change or run the risk of becoming irrelevant. The same is true when it comes to connectivity; business demand is growing rapidly and shaping the need for a better, more cost-effective and functional solution that can deliver on those user demands. With squeezed budgets, legacy infrastructure and a lack of resilient connectivity, IT teams need to find new solutions to power their businesses forward – particularly enterprises with multiple sites.

It is clear that SD-WAN is the one solution that will provide better-performing, higher-value connectivity for multiple sites and successfully integrate with internet and cloud connections. It is flexible and the most stable and cost-effective way of enhancing connectivity options, and ensuring the availability of data, applications and systems across sites, enabling access for customers, staff and other stakeholders.

But what all enterprises upgrading network connectivity need to have at the forefront of their minds is the fundamental requirement for SD-WAN solutions that are designed for the UK, not overseas markets. Nor should they be offered repackaged version of obsolete technology.

Providers on the other hand, need to develop their own software or deal with the inevitable disconnect between an established network infrastructure overlaid with software designed and built elsewhere. The urgent requirement for enterprises to have the best connectivity possible means they should select vendors that have already established themselves as pioneers in this new software-defined world.

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