A multi-site conference call, working from home or on the road, with full access to the same applications and datasets as the office desk. For some years, the workplace is no longer just the office in the company, but the terminal of choice. As a result, organizations depend on providing all employees with the services they need, regardless of time and place. A Wide Area Network (WAN) connects employees at different geo-locations and ensures that all employees have access to the services they need. However, these are increasingly falling short of the requirements of modern companies.
SD-WAN brings the necessary dynamics
Traditional WAN architectures are often based on MPLS networks. These are difficult to customize, offer limited bandwidth and are not designed for the cloud. As a result, they are unlikely to be suitable for future growth, as not only is the cloud becoming more prevalent in business, but more and more business applications are being integrated to increase bandwidth requirements. Switching to a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) fulfills this need, as it offers a greater variety of connectivity options, such as broadband Internet, DSL, or mobile. Software Defined states that the data is virtually bundled, network packets are translated into the overlying applications, and sent dynamically to the destination via the optimal path.
Depending on the urgency, the connection strength and the amount of data to be sent, the appropriate connection type can be selected. IT administrators can use policies to determine which transmission paths are used for each application. Less critical data can be set over slower lines, while data streams that rely on a stable connection, as is the case with VoIP, can be prioritized for higher-performance connections. If there are connection problems on a line, the SD-WAN can forward data traffic to alternative routes without interruption at any time.
Cost savings and greater flexibility
SD-WAN gives companies and employees significantly more freedom and reliable connection paths. Where a lost Internet connection usually caused downtime, today SD-WAN can easily route application traffic to alternative paths and maintain consistent connectivity. In addition, the large number of connections enables better cost management, as the traffic can be transferred to particularly cost-effective lines wherever possible.
By contrast, SD-WAN no longer binds employees to the office, but can also efficiently access cloud applications when they’re on the move. This is not only practical for business trips, but also benefits from the introduction of mobile work concepts or long commute times. This means that employees can continue working on the train home without any restrictions.
Inventory analysis before implementation
Companies that want to move from their traditional WAN to software-defined architecture should first understand a few basic requirements before implementation. On the one hand, the question that emerges with each new technology, which provider one chooses and, on the other hand, operational issues, whether it is compatible with legacy networks. Often, the transition to SD-WAN is gradual, which is why SD-WANs and legacy networks are sometimes in parallel use and therefore need to communicate with each other. It is therefore advisable to ensure that the SD-WAN solution is technically and conceptually compatible with the existing infrastructure.
Once companies have decided on a solution, another critical issue is whether they are able to operate the solution themselves. SD-WAN is particularly appealing to companies with multiple locations, often in different time zones. As a result, operations and monitoring are guaranteed 24/7, and companies need to ask themselves if they have the resources and staff with the skills they need to monitor and operate the SD-WAN solution themselves. If the answer to this question is no, you can resort to a managed services approach and outsource these tasks to a managed service provider. Many companies use a hybrid approach. This provides for a division of tasks between the IT team and the provider. Depending on whether enough employees with the necessary skills are available, companies outsource the simple tasks to the provider and thus save money. Alternatively, the provider takes over the more complex tasks, if the necessary skills are not sufficiently available and take over the easier tasks.
Another issue that has recently gained urgency is the security and how SD-WAN orchestrates with appropriate solutions. The multitude of connectivity options and the associated flexibility for employees provides IT staff with a new level of complexity, since data exchange must be consistent with security policies. Therefore, a sensible approach is to deploy an SD-WAN solution that integrates security features such as Next Generation Firewalls, Intrusion Prevention, Malware Protection, and Advanced Threat Protection into the same platform to eliminate the need for expensive orchestration.
Preparation is everything
As a comparatively new technology, SD-WAN is currently booming on a wave of success. Many companies are dealing with this, but they are often unaware of the implications of the implementation and how much it influences the operation. A thorough preparation is therefore essential to avoid the desire for more flexibility and higher availability by incompatible solutions.
Laurent Zimmerli is the head of Product Marketing for Open Systems. He has over 10 years of experience in the world of managed network and security services. He held positions in various areas, starting in development and network and security operations, continuing in technical account management and pre-sales, followed by product management and product marketing. Laurent is based in Zurich, Switzerland, and holds a MSc degree in Computer Science from ETH Zurich.