Why SD-WAN is key to digital transformation and agility

By Steve Griffin

Today’s organisations are re-inventing how they do business in a digital world. They’re launching products and services to customers more quickly, embracing cloud-based technologies to react at pace. The trouble is, traditional enterprise networks are struggling to keep up with the change.

Many of today’s Wide Area Network (WAN) architectures aren’t fit for a cloud-centric world. They’re primarily based on the traditional hub and spoke architecture that connects sites to a small number of regional or private data centres, making it challenging to handle the migration to cloud or cope with bandwidth intensive applications such as video conferencing.

But increasing bandwidth on traditional WANs is expensive and the lead times to upgrade and change are lengthy. Hybrid WAN solutions, which simply add a broadband connection with internet or virtual private networks (VPN) ) access, can improve the user experience and cloud access, but they’re also cumbersome to configure and lack dynamism to meet changing needs.

Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN), on the other hand, can deliver the agility and flexibility needed to support digital transformation. And as key business services and applications move out of data centres and into the cloud, they can offer direct, reliable and secure connectivity to cloud service providers.

SD-WAN is flexible, agile and cost-effective

Deployed correctly, an SD-WAN lets the network change and adapt with IT requirements, delivering the organisational agility needed to support digital transformation ambitions. It can also be a low-cost way to enhance the capacity and flexibility of the network – as direct internet links can accommodate demand, there’s less need to invest in costlier Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) links.

One of the primary benefits of an SD-WAN is application-aware routing of traffic – it can dynamically allocate network resources and capacity to respond to changing IT services and applications.  Applications (such as Office 365 and Skype) that go through the site routers carry network quality requirements, or service level agreements (SLAs), to ensure they function correctly. SD-WAN makes it possible to monitor their performance and dynamically route the application traffic to meet the SLAs. So, if routing an application’s packets over an internet-based VPN isn’t delivering the SLA, the SD-WAN will reroute the packets over the MPLS link. Or, if a low priority application like a payroll batch update is taking too much bandwidth over the MPLS link, the SD-WAN can reroute packets via the internet-based VPN to free capacity for high priority traffic. The goal is to ensure each application has the highest quality path to give the optimal customer experience.

SD-WAN also allows for central orchestration, where an organisation can distribute network-wide policies to the SD-WAN router sites. This leads to ‘zero-touch’ provisioning of on-site routers, eliminating manual, repetitive, error-prone programming of site routers and bolstering security. And as an organisation can push profiles and configurations to devices automatically, new sites can be up and running within minutes without the need for on-site configuration, significantly reducing operational complexity and costs.

SD-WAN delivers on its potential

SD-WAN has the potential to deliver the changes that today’s enterprise networks need if they’re to keep pace with customer-driven digital transformation. It’s low cost, using internet connectivity intelligently to augment and offset continued expansion in more expensive MPLS links. It delivers flexibility and agility through application-aware traffic routing, dynamic allocation of resources and short lead times to add capacity and links. And it simplifies and reduces operation and management with zero-touch provisioning and automated network management.

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