Software apps are the lifeblood of the new digital economy, as businesses are often reminded today.
What’s not said as much is that apps require a network that delivers the reliability, security, and performance needed to deliver a great experience.
The network is the backbone of any company in a hyperconnected world. A network that cannot keep up, either because of its complexity or poor performance, is not a network to grow a company with.
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While traditional setups—for example, those using Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)—have been serving business needs by linking up multiple locations such as branch offices for years, they often fall short of what is needed today.
Consider cloud-based applications such as Office 365 and Salesforce. With employees looking to run critical business functions with these online apps at scale and speed, the performance is often left wanting on traditional setups.
Another example would be digital services that link to the physical world through the use of connected sensors in a large Internet of Things (IoT) deployment.
Think of a retailer that has both brick-and-mortar shops and online shopfronts. How can a traditional network solve its challenge of fulfilling shoppers both online and offline? How does it deliver the data insights captured by sensors on the inventory side of things?
With business moving at light speed—not an exaggeration today, given the speed of e-commerce—many businesses with older setups often resort to overprovisioning to cater to the growing demand. The direct result of this inefficiency is higher infrastructure and staffing costs.
Perhaps more worrying is the deep impact on the business front. With IT bogged down with maintaining and catering to the basic framework needed for new cloud-based apps, there is little time left to create truly transformative business-enabling capabilities.
- Cost-effective: Provides a network with commercial-grade Internet to complement premium-priced MPLS bandwidth, letting you scale the network to suit business objectives and needs
- Dynamic: Allows any combination of connectivity solutions, such as Ethernet, broadband, or LTE Internet, to boost bandwidth and create a highly available, flexible, hybrid WAN architecture
- High-level SLA: Provides a differentiated level of service with a comprehensive, carrier-grade service-level agreement
What’s needed: A transformation
This is where SD-WAN and SD-Branch have come into the picture in recent years. As software-defined network technologies that make use of the Internet or cloud-native networks, they allow for simpler management and a more agile response to unexpected surges in demand, which are part and parcel of any modern business.
By doing away with the proprietary controls associated with different hardware, this software-driven approach allows businesses to manage their resources with a more holistic and efficient view of their network activity.
Businesses are not encumbered with maintaining several proprietary appliances and point-to-point connections across offices. Instead, they are freed up to develop truly market-shifting capabilities.
While software-defined networks have been in the works for a while, the momentum has picked up in the past few years. One reason is that many businesses are rethinking the costs for traditional networks as their contracts run down.
For those that have leaped, SD-WAN technology is used today to connect regional data centers as well as branch offices. This enables cloud-native apps to run smoothly, on-demand.
One immediate difference is availability. With the ability to scale up and down dynamically, SD-WAN allows businesses to use exactly what they need. If agility is the name of the game, SD-WAN is the answer to the problems many businesses have been seeking to overcome.
Another key difference is the simplicity involved. SD-WAN brings with it an easier way to manage one’s network across geographies on a “single pane of glass.” In other words, no more manually looking into each device on the network to see what is happening when, say, an outage occurs.
Older setups typically require multiple consoles to keep track of the traffic and provision for users. This is especially difficult when a boost in bandwidth is needed for a spike in business activity, such as a one-off promotion or sale.
That’s not to mention the additional security concerns involved. Maintaining separate devices to tackle increasingly multidimensional threats is not only inadequate but time consuming and inefficient. Imagine having to patch or update each security device at each office manually.
Now, what if the same IT team could handle security more easily because it has been baked into an SDWAN service from a reputable service provider? This takes the task away from the team’s hands, freeing it to deliver an improved experience instead of worrying about how the network is running.
That is not to say that IT teams should take their hands off the wheel. With SD-WAN and SD-Branch, which is seeing traction at multiple locations such as retailers, IT can remotely monitor and control the network resources delivered.
If there is a spike in traffic at several new retail branches because of a weekend sale, for example, more traffic can be allocated so the Wi-Fi-connected point-of-sale machines run smoothly.
There is no need for the IT team to travel to each branch to adjust the settings on the network equipment on-premises. A network health dashboard shows administrators how much resource is required and allows them to increase the bandwidth and troubleshoot any issues.
Which industry would benefit most from SD-WAN?
Though SD-WAN works in numerous scenarios, there are obvious use cases that fit well for the technology.
For example, businesses that have 10 or more office locations in two or more countries would find SD-WAN beneficial. And those seeking to use cloud-native apps, such as Office 365, would see improvements. Here are three examples:
A fast-expanding retailer
How does a retailer grow its sales outlets and still remotely manage the bandwidth, needed for, say, its new networked point-of-sales machines? How does it ensure that inventory tracked automatically can be updated on all systems?
An SD-WAN service allows the retailer to reduce complexity and manage its network resources remotely to optimize the buying experience for customers. Such agility also enables it to seamlessly integrate data from IoT sensors that track its inventory levels
A multinational media company
With the voluminous multimedia files that are transferred from one office to another, such a media company requires the bandwidth as well as the security provided by SD-WAN.
Instead of relying on a large IT team to efficiently allocate resources and secure its confidential information, it can turn to an SD-WAN service provider to deliver this robust network.
A large manufacturer
With multiple factory sites, a manufacturer needs fast, reliable connectivity to deliver the orders it receives. Often, these orders come thick and fast, so its network capacity has to keep up with its manufacturing capacity.
Confidential designs have to be transmitted over secure links. At the same time, a manufacturer that has digitized its processes through IoT sensors on the manufacturing floor, for instance, would find SD-WAN important in connecting between various locations to deliver the goods to a customer on time.
While the focus has been on front-end applications in the digital transformation of late, many businesses are now finding out that the back-end network infrastructure has to be upgraded to support the frictionless, intuitive experience they seek to deliver to customers.
SD-WAN provides that robust network to deliver future applications effectively. With simpler management, higher performance, and security baked in, it offers the agility many businesses seek today.
One important factor to a successful SD-WAN rollout is to plan. Instead of addressing the needs of a single branch, for example, a business can look to deploy SD-WAN across geographies to boost efficiencies and cost savings.