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How SD-WAN Addresses Today’s Business Challenges

We have explored the idea that for any enterprise to digitally transform, they must first address network transformation. We then introduced the concept of the software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) as an overlay technology over traditional networks running multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), and showed how SD-WAN can help enterprises be more cost efficient and improve their networking capabilities in today’s business environment.

We now drill down some specific business considerations facing enterprises today and how SD-WAN can help.

Supporting business growth

When enterprises grow, they expand geographically so that they can be closer to their customers. Historically, the setting up of a new location is relatively straightforward as most data traverses between a branch and data centre, where corporate applications mainly comprise enterprise resource planning-type applications.

Modern enterprises have to deal with large file backups, video streaming, unified communications, software-as-a-service (SaaS), and different cloud-based type applications. They not only need to connect to private data centres but also to public cloud providers. Meanwhile, growth of bandwidth consumption in traditional networking is expected to rise over 20% annually, while growth at branch offices is expected at about 30%.

These issues make setting up a new branch a cumbersome process, often requiring expensive skilled engineers to deploy multiple appliances. Setting up a new branch requires them to remotely log in to each site, configure links, set policies, install upgrades, and carry out feature enhancements. This process can take any time between two and three months, which severely hampers any enterprise wanting to expand quickly.

SD-WAN can shorten this process. Whether an enterprise is setting up a new branch or upgrading an existing branch, they can do so with one integrated hardware appliance that supports a plug-and-play setup and zero-touch provisioning. An SD-WAN network appliance is pre-loaded with software and can communicate with a cloud-based management platform to receive all the relevant network policy settings via 4G/LTE, fibre or any other broadband connectivity. This is a boon for enterprises as Gartner estimates that with SD-WAN, the time it takes to provision network changes at branches can be quicker than traditional networks by between 50% and 90%.

Optimizing connectivity costs

Traditional networks use only MPLS links so enterprises will have to pay for expensive connectivity notwithstanding the kind of application that traverses the network or the kind of priority, security and reliability they require. However, the cost of MPLS links is expensive in Asia Pacific. This is where SD-WAN is useful, as it provides multipath options and supports 4G/LTE, fibre or broadband connections besides using MPLS. By overlaying an SD-WAN over a traditional network, an enterprise with 50 branch sites running on 10Mbps of bandwidth is estimated to save up to 63%.

Additionally, SD-WAN can optimise traffic flow based on protocol, port, source and destination IP, or even application type, which gives enterprises the option to prioritise the kind of traffic they want traversing the network. Non-sensitive applications can run on lower priority 4G/LTE or broadband links so that they do not sap scarce, expensive MPLS bandwidth. Other higher priority business-critical applications used to connect with partners, suppliers, and customers can be put on MPLS links to ensure reliability.

Besides direct savings from the reduced use of MPLS links, IDC notes there are also “soft” cost savings, too, courtesy of utilising SD-WANs. These include higher availability, better application response times as well as ease of management, all of which can contribute to further savings of anywhere between 20% and 39%.

How SD-WAN Addresses Today’s Business Challenges
Deriving greater agility and intelligence

Cost savings isn’t the only thing going for SD-WAN. Much of the intelligence of the network in traditional networking is built into the hardware layers within the network appliances themselves making this architecture rigid and inflexible. This makes setup, configuration and ongoing maintenance difficult as they have to be manually managed through command-line interfaces carried out by skilled, expensive personnel on a site-to-site basis. One research shows that network managers spend nearly 71% of their time fixing problems on traditional networks. So it’s no surprise that network flexibility amongst executives polled is the top business driver for enterprises to migrate to SD-WANs.

Being cloud-based, policy settings can be modified or changed centrally and propagated automatically to all appliances within an SD-WAN network. Such automated features reduce manual configuration by up to 90%, thereby increasing the accuracy and timeliness of network support, and minimise network outages.

What’s more, SD-WANs have load balancing and dynamic path control over the network, which users can set. So if a specific link suffers an outage or slow response times, the traffic is automatically diverted so that the enterprise does not suffer any issues. And if one link is down, traffic can failover to another link automatically, keeping the service live.

Also, with SD-WANs, enterprises can use network data to provide end-to-end visibility using network analytics tools, something not easily done with traditional networking. These tools are extremely valuable to help network engineers analyse traffic patterns, troubleshoot the network, and optimise bandwidth utilisation.

Managing security risks

Security in today’s enterprises is more complicated than before. Corporate data is no longer confined to the traditional security perimeter, where data is protected at the branch and data centre by dedicated security appliances. With the rise of the usage of cloud-based applications and connections to public clouds, enterprises now have to literally deal with thousands of devices accessing the network with different software applications from anywhere on the Internet. Also, with SaaS applications that run on public clouds, enterprises may not have full visibility and control of the security of that application.

A recent survey notes that 37% of respondents say network security is by far the biggest technical driver influencing their WAN strategy. While traditional WAN solutions handle security through multiple appliances at the branch, SD-WANs have built-in security protocols in one box. They include encryption, firewalls, VPNs, intrusion protection systems (IPS), anti-malware, and content and application filtering.

With SD-WAN, all these security features are managed via a centralised cloud-based dashboard, giving users visibility of the network in real-time. When new appliances join the network, they are authenticated automatically before they get access to policies. Software patches are also automatically downloaded to deal with new vulnerabilities. Because they are centrally controlled, security features can be replicated across the network easily. This is extremely important given that breaches at organisations with fully deployed automation is estimated to decrease in cost by about 8%, from US$2.88 million in 2018 to US$2.65 million in 2019.

Having the edge

Software-based networking has the advantage over older hardware-based networking. By decoupling the intelligence and control functionality of networking technology and putting all this into a centralised controller, enterprises using SD-WANs can address the most important business considerations outlined in this article.

Simply put, SD-WANs provide more operational flexibility, lower the cost of operations, offer  better scalability, visibility and network performance, and benefit from easier management and improved security.

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