Can you afford to ignore SD-WAN

As SaaS usage in enterprises is being scaled up, IT teams are increasingly losing visibility and control over this expanding mix of applications.

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Can you afford to ignore SD-WAN Bhaskar Peruri, regional manager, Middle East at Silver Peak.
By  Bhaskar Peruri Published  May 22, 2016

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) allows enterprises to leverage multiple types of connectivity in a secured and optimised manner.

The Wide Area Network (WAN) has not seen much by way of innovation for the better part of a decade. While the rest of the infrastructure has become more agile and has been fine-tuned to better suit the cloud and an increasingly virtual world, the WAN continues to be constrained by the high costs and inflexibility of (Multiprotocol Label Switching) MPLS networks. Users are left with cloud applications that perform better from home than from work, while IT organisations become increasingly frustrated with the rigidity, cost, and complexity of today’s MPLS-based WAN.

In the Middle East, specifically, smart government, big data, cloud computing, and virtualisation represent areas of heavy growth. But given the current socio-economic situation of the GCC, and with countries such as the UAE dropping fuel subsidies and introducing value-added tax (VAT), most enterprises within the region are now under heavy pressure to keep costs down, whilst also under pressure to adopt new digital developments in an agile manner.

Fortunately, an industry movement is now underway which allows enterprises to leverage multiple types of connectivity in a secured and optimised manner – this is often referred to as the software-defined WAN (SD-WAN).

Internet and cloud demand a fundamental shift

With today’s reality of cloud-based applications, MPLS is no longer sufficient to address today’s WAN requirements. With more applications offered on-demand via the Internet and the cloud, there is a distinct need for enterprises to operate at ‘cloud speed’. Gartner predicts that by 2018 Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) will become the dominant model for consuming application functionality for approximately 80% of all organisations. To operate at this pace, organisations now face a number of challenges, which include improving the responsiveness and agility of the business and the network, while also reducing costs and providing better performance for cloud applications.

In the new cloud-driven world, there is an overarching need for increased responsiveness and agility. If a new office needs to be opened, an existing office needs to be relocated, or if IT resources need to be moved, the process to add, move, or change MPLS connectivity takes too long and is too disruptive to the business. For example, establishing connectivity at a new site, or increasing the bandwidth at an existing one, can take up to a month or longer. To compound matters, MPLS does not accommodate new methods of automation, and typically requires on-site IT expertise and configuration of networking equipment. Lower-cost Internet connectivity has been available, but it has lacked scale, reliability, and security. If Internet connectivity was purchased, it would often sit idle until needed for fail-over.

Businesses are also wasting millions of dollars each year because of the ‘trombone effect’, often referred to as back-hauling. Today, we directly access cloud applications in our homes via broadband Internet, which works just fine and costs less. Accessing the same cloud applications from within the enterprise, however, can often result in slower performance for cloud applications, and superfluous costs for the business as a result of the transmission being sent back over the expensive MPLS connection. This begs the question, why not connect users in a branch directly to the cloud over the Internet?

As SaaS usage in enterprises is being scaled up, IT teams are increasingly losing visibility and control over this expanding mix of applications. Most CIOs and IT leaders today cannot say how many SaaS applications are running on their network, or which SaaS applications are in use across the enterprise. When problems arise with SaaS performance or connectivity, organisations are usually notified via IT trouble tickets. As a result, the IT team not only needs to improve the performance of this new set of applications to keep cloud users happy, but they also need to rein in how applications are being used on the network.

Moving to a broadband WAN

When implemented correctly, an SD-WAN can help enterprises flexibly and securely connect users to applications by the most cost-effective source of connectivity available. This enables enterprises to augment or replace MPLS networks with secure broadband Internet connectivity. An SD-WAN supports multiple paths and allows connectivity decisions to be made independent of carriers, which helps enterprises avoid lengthy procurement and deployment delays and gain a faster time-to-service at the branch. Once connected, an SD-WAN fabric provides visibility into both data centre and cloud traffic, and provides the ability to centrally assign business intent policies to secure and control the WAN traffic. It should dynamically select the best path – whether that’s MPLS or the Internet – for each application based on customer-defined policies and real-time network quality measurements, all while keeping the data in-flight encrypted edge-to-edge.

An SD-WAN should ensure private line performance over the Internet by over-coming quality problems created by packet loss and out-of-order packets. This is especially important for cloud users and those that are increasingly using SaaS applications in the branch. By transitioning to an SD-WAN, enterprises can reduce their dependency on and the expense of MPLS connectivity. In addition, organisations do not have to overhaul any existing WAN investments; they can easily mix and match carriers by access technology and by geography.

Move at your own pace

Moving to a broadband WAN is not an all-or-nothing approach – enterprises can move at their own pace. While the ultimate goal may be 100% broadband WAN, enterprises can take the first step by deploying a hybrid WAN. As MPLS upgrades arise, businesses can explore lower-cost broadband Internet services as an alternative path for connecting to cloud applications. This provides an opportunity to downsize the MPLS bandwidth and only use that connectivity for the remaining data centre applications. Enterprises can then begin to migrate additional applications away from the corporate data centre and into the cloud as desired, and do so in an optimal way.

The SD-WAN Rewards

Ultimately, transitioning to an SD-WAN model requires minimal disruption and cost. Internet services can be introduced into the WAN without impact on application performance or the MPLS network. An SD-WAN can automatically select the optimum path for every application. This can restrict certain business-critical traffic to the MPLS network, while directing other traffic across the broadband Internet connection. Given industry averages for bandwidth costs, payback for an SD-WAN investment starts immediately.

There is little doubt IoT will be a game-changer in the region, in the near future.

The ability to connect, communicate with, and remotely manage a number of networked, automated devices via the Internet presents incredible possibilities. From an enterprise point-of-view, this future is best augmented by cost-effective, scalable, and flexible solutions that enable organisations to reduce their costs, increase their application performance, and have access to information anywhere-anytime, and at the speed they require, which is where SD-WAN comes into play.

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