Thursday, 05th December 2019
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The new networking approach: SD-WAN

As enterprise IT estates adopt cloud services, enterprise networking has become an increasingly complex challenge. Moving to the cloud provides greater agility, scalability and flexibility for networking environments. However, there is a need to maintain application speed and agility in the cloud which consequently does not tolerate sub-optimal network performance. Technical issues such as these can spiral into further business problems including a poor customer experience. By Todd Kiehn, VP Product Management – GTT Communications.

Fortunately, network performance trade-offs are not inevitable, as networking technology has adapted to face these challenges and offer a solution. At the centre of this new networking approach is software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) technology.

SD-WAN’s popularity stems from its innovative approach to network management, providing enhanced control, visibility, and performance while improving bandwidth efficiency and reducing bandwidth costs.

Enter: SD-WAN

Unlike a traditional router, an SD-WAN service combines hardware and software at the customer premises with a central network intelligence function that understands the performance of applications over all available connections at all sites. The device interprets the traffic being sent and uses dynamic path routing to ensure that this traffic reaches its destination with the appropriate priority. A great example of this in action can be seen at Europac.

Europac, one of the most innovative manufacturers of sustainable packaging in Europe, uses GTT SD-WAN to connect its 18 paper and packaging factories and six waste management facilities in Spain, France and Portugal. In doing so, the company has been able to streamline its operations and processes across the entire value chain of the packaging industry. This enables Europac to manage change in its manufacturing operations – a real competitive advantage. SD-WAN adds flexibility and allows Europac to optimise its network to support cloud based applications, which is a fundamental aspect of the company's digital strategy.

As IT and applications today are often hosted in different geographies to their users, SD-WAN is helping make the network simpler to configure and control centrally. Making the routing software defined allows network control to be separated from the underlying hardware, improving flexibility and enabling enterprises to customise more of the IT estate to suit their business requirements. SD-WAN allows implementation of a new approach to supporting global locations, including the ability to manage multiple types of connections (from private VPNs to locally sourced internet), as well as application of business policies to manage applications and security from a central resource.

Finding the perfect match

Due to its potential to improve overall business performance and efficiency, SD-WAN has also captivated the interest of the C-suite. For companies considering investing in SD-WAN, there are several factors to consider when deciding if the technology is a good fit.

First, it’s important to understand the maturity level, skill, and experience of the enterprise IT team, and map this to the level of support needed from the service provider when migrating from an early trial stage of deployment to a full production environment. Pure-play SD-WAN vendors will offer impressive technology, but they don’t provide the underlying network, and they rely on the IT staff to select the right network access solutions. Furthermore, IT staff members usually need considerable help in understanding how to adopt SD-WAN technology to suit their enterprise’s environment and business priorities. Enterprises also need to be aware that the end-to-end control and predictability of their mission-critical applications is much more difficult to achieve with internet service providers that cannot offer efficient, low-latency internet access to their cloud or Software-as-a-Service provider. On the other hand, opting to have a network service provider manage the service can ensure delivery of the core network, efficient internet access, and multiple access options — all aligning to the specific mission-critical application requirements of the business enterprise.

Second, while it is important to carefully consider cost savings when evaluating an SD-WAN solution, a company should avoid thinking of SD-WAN as just a connectivity service for reducing costs. It is much more than that. The evaluation process should also consider all the other benefits of an SD-WAN solution from the standpoint of simplified network management and improved application performance, which will translate into real business value across the enterprise.

Embracing change

As enterprises begin to shift towards a more cloud-centric model, there has been more and more pressure placed on traditional wide area network architectures. The implications of this are far reaching for enterprises bandwidth usage requirements and for the distributed nature of more traditional enterprise networks.

SD-WAN has disrupted the IT infrastructure and WAN marketplace as we know it. It brings performance benefits to cloud-hosted applications through centralised network optimisation and dynamic path routing features, resulting in improved reliability and performance.

We are still at the early stages of understand SD-WANs full potential for networking technology. Ultimately, it is a powerful solution capable of adapting to specific business requirements. With more and more businesses across sectors and geographies digitising their offerings, it’s time to embrace SD-WAN to support a more cloud-based future.

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