Everything you need to know about SD-WAN and how SD-WAN can help Enterprise to address various problems arising from their current traditional networks
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PAIN POINTS OF TRADITIONAL NETWORK (MPLS) FOR ENTERPRISE
Today’s enterprises are growing increasingly digital, with companies adding new applications to boost productivity, reduce costs and meet the growing demand of their employees and customers for the latest and greatest functionality. This form of digital transformation, the so-called applications era, is creating tremendous pressure on enterprises and service providers alike to deliver the tools users need with the quality of experience (QoE) that they have come to expect.
Network performance is key to the application user experience. CIOs and IT leaders need the ability to dynamically orchestrate the performance and user experience of any and every application in real time, regardless of the size of their network, the number and location of sites, or the number of users. A new network strategy is required to leverage the potential of digital transformation - and an SD-WAN is emerging as a key business requirement. To find success and deliver on their key business goals, enterprises need to protect and control the user experience for all business-critical applications over the emerging hybrid network.
There are specific problems that can be seen across enterprises in all industries - from retail to banking to transportation - when it comes to their networks. To be an agile enterprise, a business needs an agile IT foundation and, in many cases, the network is often the least-agile IT component. Five common network pain points found across enterprises of all types are:
An unpredictable application environment, with new applications being added daily by users, with or without the permission of IT (shadow IT)
The inability of the network to deliver consistent application performance that maps back to business goals, for example, ensuring one business-critical application such as Skype for Business is always on
A lack of visibility into how much bandwidth specific applications consume and how well they are performing
The inability to most efficiently route traffic between links to optimize bandwidth, cost and performance for applications hosted in the cloud or on-premises
Performance problems with specific applications such as Office 365, Skype for Business, a customer relationship management (CRM) system, unified communications, SAP solutions, Salesforce, point-of-sale (PoS) systems in retail, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and other industry-specific applications that may be a critical part of an enterprise’s day-to-day operation.
Benefits of SD-WAN
SD-WAN, or SD-WAN as a service, brings to enterprises the same level of agility across the network environment - it helps level the playing field, so to speak, providing better awareness and visibility of the myriad networks, locations and applications by layering over connectivity solutions already in place and providing a central point for orchestrating network and application performance. However, awareness isn’t enough. There are five key requirements of an application-aware SD-WAN that will help companies realize its full benefits:
It’s impossible for network engineers to manage what they can’t see. In today’s application-centric world, applications are being introduced at the speed of business, oftentimes in a shadow IT environment where employees take it upon themselves to introduce new resources and applications into the mix without the knowledge or permission of IT. SD-WAN gives enterprise IT managers end-to-end visibility over individual application flows and from the 10,000-foot-view for SLA performance management, so they can see what applications are being used, when, and by whom, and better understand what types of issues are occurring and why.
This is often the missing link in SD-WAN. Many SD-WAN solutions have visibility, but few offer the ability to have control over the network and applications. Enterprises need more granular control of where and under what circumstances an application transaction uses a specific service - to move specific traffic when they need to, optimize it when they need to, apply different techniques to different applications and links, and so on. The only reliable, consistent way to deliver control is via an end-to-end quality of service (QoS) capability; control delivered via other means will fail to provide the required QoE businesses demand. Control has become a significant differentiator in SD-WAN solutions, allowing enterprises to protect business-critical application performance down to each specific application flow, gaining the ability to consistently deliver QoE
Dynamic path selection
The control ability also plays into another key component for SD-WAN - dynamic path selection. The ability to route mission-critical traffic - such as a quarterly earnings webinar - over a high-value MPLS network for a certain period of time, while kicking lower-priority traffic over to a lower-value network, is key. The ability to dynamically adjust application flows based on real-time network conditions so those high-value apps don’t suffer in the middle of the transmission is also critical. Dynamic path selection is particularly important for multi-networked branch offices, selecting in real-time the best path for high-priority applications according to real-time performance and application traffic characteristics
In the era of cloud, an increasing amount of applications are moving off corporate premises and more BYOD applications are coming in. The overwhelming majority of security spend in enterprises is still on the network perimeter, and experts concur more needs to shift to protecting the internal networks, especially when they have visibility from SD-WAN solutions. Much like the difficulty in managing what you can’t see, it’s impossible to protect what you can’t see. Security in SD-WAN is standardized over the entire network, bringing a new level of security control to enterprises.
This is one of the early elements of SD-WAN, and is considered table stakes for SD-WAN solutions. However, its value shouldn’t be underestimated. In a SD-WAN environment, WAN optimization is key to QoE, helping smooth out the ups and downs of broadband connectivity, providing a more consistent user experience. It also helps optimize bandwidth resources via compression and deduplication techniques.
Network Performance and Uptime
Another perk of SD-WAN is its performance and uptime strengths. Many businesses keep a backup connection for failover purposes, but it goes unused unless an emergency occurs. Although this link is dormant a majority of the time, a business still needs to pay for it. Through dynamic load balancing, SD-WAN can activate this connection and push traffic through it to ensure the business gets the most out of all the bandwidth it’s paying for.
This ability to move traffic across different WAN lines without interruption provides reliable failover and improves performance. Because SD-WAN can distribute traffic across all connections and always sends priority apps down the best available path, a business can continue to be productive. For example, if the main link that transmits voice and critical data traffic goes down, SD-WAN will send that traffic through another link within the network to ensure calls can still be made and data can still be accessed.
Ease of Management
According to a survey from IDC, 31 percent of businesses are motivated to adopt SD-WAN because of its reduced complexity regarding network management. That’s because many IT departments are spread thin. If there happens to be an issue at a branch location, they have to travel to that site to resolve the problem, spending time and money that could have otherwise been invested in revenue-generating activity.
SD-WAN solves this issue, simplifying network management by allowing IT to remotely deploy and configure branches from one central platform. Deployment is so easy that it can be done in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take with MPLS.
Flexibility with Carrier Connections
Many customers’ networks are comprised of multiple connection types from different carriers. This makes for a complex infrastructure that is difficult to support and automate. SD-WAN simplifies this by sitting on top of the business’s network and centrally managing all connections underneath it. This means that if the business already has all of the underlying pieces, the SD-WAN will tie them together to simplify complexity, reduce lifecycle costs, and boost agility.
SD-WAN enables engineers to easily automate any combination of carrier solutions. The true benefit here is that the customer doesn’t have to rip and replace its entire infrastructure. For example, if a customer purchases SD-WAN from TRUE, all connections underneath it do not need to be provided by TRUE in order for it to function efficiently. The customer can keep its current infrastructure as is and simply layer SD-WAN on top to bring it all together.
What is SD-WAN ?
Software-defined wide area networks, or SD-WANs, apply the principles of software-defined networking (SDN) to corporate WANs. That means they separate the managerial control of a WAN, including how it applies policies and routes all types of application traffic, from its underlying network infrastructure. In other words, the most important management is conducted in software instead of hardware. SD-WANs have an overall effect on WANs comparable to that of SDN on modern data center networks and carrier environments – i.e., they enable more intelligent application flows (including prioritization of critical traffic), simpler management and reduced infrastructural costs.
Indeed, the distinctive design of SD-WAN solutions help unlock numerous operational benefits, with the most important being more predictable application performance. Traditional MPLS-based WANs have long excelled at providing such failsafe connectivity, ensuring packets reach their destinations in support of business-critical apps. However, the high costs of MPLS service, the real prospects of service provider lock-in and the uniquely demanding requirements of real-time applications like VoIP and video conferencing have spurred the need for simpler, smarter and more responsive alternatives like SD-WAN.
By leveraging the intelligence of their controllers, appliances, overlay networks, and other services, the best SD-WAN solutions deliver predictable performance for both TCP and real-time applications, whether over a hybrid WAN (e.g., MPLS paired with broadband and 4G LTE) or a pure internet-based WAN, without MPLS. Indeed, there is considerable flexibility when implementing an SD-WAN architecture, as it can support multiple modes of transport beyond MPLS circuits, including commodity internet, cellular service and satellite links. This versatility makes SD-WAN both a technical and financial breakthrough for enterprises and SMBs.
The technical and financial value of a SD-WAN
On the technical side, SD-WAN updates the WAN for the age of cloud computing. MPLS, the dominant WAN technology since the 1990s, was designed long before the advent of mainstream cloud application flows, which require bandwidth far in excess of what thin and expensive MPLS links can offer. MPLS is still a valuable technology because of its reliability and compatibility with multiple networking technologies, from Metro Ethernet to IP VPNs, but its roots run all the way back to the days of Frame Relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode, and this age really shows itself in struggles to handle solutions such as SaaS and hosted VoIP.
SD-WAN addresses this problem on three fronts:
It opens the floodgates for much more bandwidth by supporting economical MPLS alternatives. For a fraction of the price per Mbps of a MPLS plan, an SD-WAN customer can procure and incorporate internet connectivity to ensure continuous availability for performance-sensitive applications on-premise and in the cloud, while also diversifying their transport mix to avoid service provider lock-in.
It ensures that these new links are secure and easy as possible to manage. Internet was once off-limits for WANs because it was seen as unreliable in terms of both performance and safety. An SD-WAN might implement encryption alongside integrations such as complete gateway security stacks in the cloud to protect all of its connections. Moreover, any changes to configurations are relatively straightforward via a management portal.
An SD-WAN solution conducts constant, precise measurement and monitoring of network traffic, in accordance with current WAN policies. If there is an issue preventing the intended flows across the WAN, it can flag it immediately and then dynamically redirect traffic so that the highest-priority apps get the best quality paths through the WAN or cloud access network. An SD-WAN greatly reduces the bottlenecks that can degrade the user experience.
The inexpensive transport options available through SD-WAN make it an appealing upgrade over the MPLS-centric status quo, although savings only scratch the surface of what an organization gains from SD-WAN. The newfound assurance that real-time applications will perform as expected, without taxing the WAN’s infrastructure beyond its means, is the central value proposition of SD-WAN.
These apps, most notably ones for voice and video, have become vital to the structure and operations of the modern enterprise. Distributed workforces, spread across home and branch offices, are more common than ever before, and they rely on consistent access to real-time communications tools made available over the company WAN. Scaling a conventional WAN to consistently serve far-flung end users and branches is recipe for subpar user experience, which creates the opening for SD-WAN solutions.
A legacy MPLS WAN will often backhaul its traffic to HQ or a data center for security purposes, resulting in a noticeable performance penalty on sensitive applications. Its security infrastructure is also relatively complex, featuring appliances at multiple locations, which increases costs as well as management overhead for IT personnel. Taken together, these drawbacks make everyday WAN usage and upkeep a companywide burden for today’s increasingly distributed enterprises.
In contrast, an SD-WAN simplifies the branch connection to HQ or a data center by using internet links. It may also provide the option for direct-to-cloud connections for even smoother access to anything from a hosted VoIP or UC platform to Microsoft Office 365 and Salesforce. An SD-WAN solution delivers much more reliability per dollar spent than a traditional WAN.
How to evaluate SD-WAN solutions
The rapid growth of the SD-WAN industry in the 2010s has produced a bevy of competing solutions from both dedicated SD-WAN vendors and many service providers themselves. They all seem similar on the surface, due to their touted inclusion of some or all of the features and benefits outlined above, yet significant differences exist. Some of the key differentiators include:
Wireless backup options
LTE service is fast, widely available and wireless, making it an ideal backup choice for wired WAN circuits. An old-fashioned WAN might include T1 lines running MPLS, a setup that is vulnerable to terrestrial risks such as flooding. LTE is much more resilient in comparison and can provide the redundant circuitry necessary for seamless application failover, even in remote and challenging environments in which running extra cabling would be impractical.
Included security features
In replacing or at least augmenting a large portion of MPLS connectivity, SD-WAN has a high security bar to meet. Customers should make sure that any prospective solution comes complete with features such as branch gateways between MPLS and SD-WAN providing end-to-end encryption, stateful firewalls with SD-WAN traffic fabric management and shaping, secure internet access at all sites, and denial-of-service protections.
SD-WAN’s simplification of the network trickles down to the setup of equipment and connections at each branch office. Rather than needing to send technical teams out to every branch to oversee proper configuration, an ideal SD-WAN will enable zero-touch provisioning, which allows for sites to automatically receive the right configurations upon connection. Accordingly, the SD-WAN can scale to many sites with minimal hassle.
Compatibility with existing infrastructure
An SD-WAN is a huge upgrade, but it does not have to be a disruptive one. Make sure its overlay can work with existing routers and network infrastructures. Also check if it can support hybrid MPLS-internet connectivity in addition to internet-only (since MPLS remains a substantial commitment even in SD-WAN-curious organizations) and that it works well in tandem with services such as WAN optimization and guest Wi-Fi configurations, if applicable.
Synergy with other services from the same provider
Many SD-WAN vendors offer multiple solutions, the sum total of which can make the difference in determining which SD-WAN is the best fit for a given organization. For example, the same provider might oversee both an SD-WAN platform and a hosted VoIP service – two offerings that are frequently paired in practice, since SD-WAN guarantees the predictable performance required for acceptable VoIP interactions. 1-TO-ALL offers a broad portfolio of networking services, from SD-WAN and hosted VoIP to Metro Ethernet and MPLS, meaning that customers can be confident they are getting solutions that fit well together.
A better way to WAN
The major trends that have made SD-WAN an appealing upgrade – notably, the rise of cloud computing and distributed enterprises – will likely continue for the foreseeable future. As a result, an SD-WAN solution is a smart investment that will future-proof key applications and workflows.
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