Driven by the rise of remote workforces and the variety of cloud-based applications that businesses are using more of each day, the SD-WAN market surged by 50% by the end of 2020 and is fast becoming the future of network management. Traditional network architectures weren’t designed to handle the workloads or growing complexities that come with the new digital age and lack the visibility and flexibility IT managers need when overseeing an entire network. That’s where SD-WAN comes in.
A software-defined wide area network (or SD-WAN) offers much greater agility compared to traditional network architecture. When critical business processes rely on various Internet service providers or are distributed across multiple clouds, SD-WAN provides overall visibility of the entire network and allows you to improve end user experience, optimise bandwidth usage, bolster network security, and improve cloud application performance.
Out with the old, in with the new
Traditional WANs like virtual private networks (VPNs) or multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) connections are typically quite rigid and make it difficult for businesses to adopt a multi-vendor strategy. While these methods offer limited visibility or control over an entire network, SD-WAN gives you the oversight and the agility to manage traffic over each individual connection. It can also result in cost savings as SD-WAN can move non-critical WAN traffic from more costly private MPLS network paths onto lower-cost broadband Internet.
These advantages can result in very real benefits for businesses. For example, if an Internet connection goes down, IT managers can immediately identify which provider they need to contact while the system automatically diverts traffic to critical applications without having to reconfigure routers or gateways on an individual basis. For retail businesses that use point-of-sale applications, Internet downtime often leads to slow systems, negative customer experiences, and a loss in revenue. SD-WAN helps by diverting bandwidth away from non-critical applications and towards essential functions (like those point-of-sale applications) so that customer experience is unaffected.
Often when businesses experience slow Internet, they assume they need to spend more to increase their bandwidth. However, instead of spending more on connectivity, it may be far more effective to improve network management capabilities and prioritise traffic to essential applications through SD-WAN. Connectivity vendors can also be managed individually, making a flexible multi-vendor approach possible with SD-WAN. This not only makes network visibility more holistic, but businesses can also add to their existing Internet connectivity whenever it is needed, rather than upgrading everything at once with a single vendor.
How does SD-WAN benefit cloud migration?
From small businesses to established enterprises, many organisations are now working in hybrid cloud environments. Managing different cloud environments and integrating them into an MPLS network presents significant challenges for network architects, and also often leads to frustratingly slow applications and lost productivity because vital cloud applications aren’t prioritised effectively.
While broadband Internet could provide additional bandwidth at a lower cost for essential cloud services, this solution lacks the security and reliability of MPLS. SD-WAN solves both problems by creating an overlay across any and all connectivity options to ensure that the cloud applications can be managed with the necessary flexibility and security.
SD-WAN improves the performance of cloud applications by prioritising those that are critical to operations. As organisations are beginning to use a wider array of cloud-based applications, the data transferred over a network increases and becomes more difficult to control – especially when many popular cloud services are hosted in different parts of the world. SD-WAN allows you to monitor and prioritise each individual application from a network perspective and find an optimal performance-based solution for each individual cloud service.
Is SD-WAN more secure?
Digital transformation can be a double-edged sword when new technology exposes your organisation to new security risks. Outdated WANs are no longer an effective solution as they do not have data encryption, visibility, or control. SD-WAN, on the other hand, is on an evolutionary path when it comes to network security. More partnerships between SD-WAN vendors and security companies are emerging, bringing built-in security into a company’s network solution. As the SD-WAN ecosystem evolves, many of the inherent SD-WAN security components are beginning to match dedicated security hardware or software solutions as well, which is an important factor to consider when looking at the overall SD-WAN eco-system.
Businesses should look for SD-WAN solutions that have a wider range of integrated security features such as IPS, content filtering, anti-malware, geo-IP firewalling, and more. With SD-WAN, it is also far easier for IT managers to monitor their security in real-time from one place, rather than working with disparate security solutions across multiple branches in different geographic locations.
Many organisations that do want to move over to SD-WAN are unable to do so because they are tied up in long-term contracts with VPN or MPLS providers. Buying your way out of them is not always an affordable option, but you can try negotiating to gradually shift contracts from traditional VPN network solutions to Internet connectivity instead. That way, businesses might not have to delay cutting data traffic costs and adding vital improvements to their network until their contract runs out years down the line.
When it comes to finding the right SD-WAN solution, there’s no single answer for everyone. Businesses should find a partner that can thoroughly assess their overall network environment and see what solution would best suit their demands and cloud strategy. SD-WAN has the potential to bring greater agility, security, and optimisation to networks and revolutionise the way a business stays connected. And which business wouldn’t want that?
- Mohammed Mulla is Senior Product Manager at SEACOM