By Kevin O’Toole
Cloud adoption, mobile applications, expanding branch facilities and a host of other business imperatives continue to drive up bandwidth demand for businesses nationwide. While challenged to meet these escalating demands, IT leaders of distributed enterprises are also faced with delivering a seamless and consistent connected experience for all of their customers, employees, and partners, regardless of location or proximity to the network backbone. What’s more, they typically need to do all of this with relatively flat IT budgets.
That’s why some businesses are adopting Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN), where networks can be centrally managed and pushed out to geographically dispersed locations in a consistent and cost-efficient manner through software.
Traditionally, upgrading WAN capabilities requires adding equipment, people and expenses. SD-WAN provides an attractive solution to this labor- and equipment-intensive process, because it allows organizations to set up and manage networking functionality using centralized software to program the network traffic routing that is typically conducted by routers and switches.
Leveraging software-defined networking and network function virtualization (NFV) technologies, SD-WAN allows users to establish and configure virtual private networks (VPNs), WAN optimization, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and firewalls to enterprise branch offices through software. SD-WAN implementations minimize the need for additional physical equipment at sites, which eliminates significant expenses. Other benefits include:
- A greatly simplified infrastructure, reduced total cost of ownership, and new levels of flexibility, operational efficiency and market responsiveness
- Ability to deliver predictable application performance and centrally manage policies across all locations
- Flexible traffic management that lets users steer data to the cloud, centralized data centers and other enterprise facilities
- Business continuity enabled by separating control and forwarding functions to give network administrators the ability to dynamically route traffic, creating more options and connections for speedier recovery and less downtime
- Capacity to support multiple classes of service for voice, video and data
- Flexibility and agility to implement changes quickly to accommodate evolving customer and market preferences
- A highly scalable, cost-effective alternative to traditional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)
Just as the cloud has enabled shared, automated resources for business computing, so too will SD-WAN increase business agility and the ability to work with cloud-based resources more cost-effectively and instantaneously.
Although SD-WAN is still nascent in terms of adoption, research validates that enterprise IT leaders are eager to realize the benefits of cost-effectively connecting branches and remote locations while also accommodating the growing requirements of cloud computing. According to a March 2017 International Data Corporation (IDC) survey of more than 800 network management executives, 87 percent of the respondents use or plan to use SD-WAN within the next two years. The three most important components cited for selecting an SD-WAN solution were security (firewall and unified threat management (UTM) features), WAN optimization, and intelligent dynamic path selection. Analytics, as well as policy control and management, also scored high.
Five Tips If You’re Considering SD-WAN Deployment
If your enterprise is evaluating an SD-WAN implementation, here are five guidelines to consider:
- Focus on your customers’ needs, business objectives and use cases. Leverage SD-WAN to deliver new services offerings with the right level of customer experience, while transforming business models and improving operations.
- Consider starting slowly by piloting a few branch offices with select applications, effectively test-driving SD-WAN with minimal impact to established network infrastructure; if you’re using or considering managed services, talk with your provider about adding piloted SD-WAN solutions.
- Ensure that any SD-WAN implementation complements your security strategy.
- Prepare your staff for the changes in their job functions as they move from managing a static, hardware-based WAN to engaging a flexible, software-driven solution.
- Ensure that your SD-WAN provider has the financial stability for the long-term service and support you may need.
Networking by the Numbers
Regardless of how much time network engineers invest in troubleshooting and problem resolution, that number decreased by roughly 90% with deployment of SD-WAN.
The global SD-WAN market is expected to reach $7.53 billion in 2021.
72% of distributed enterprises plan to increase the number of remote sites that are connecting to their WAN over the next 12 months.
By making redundant live links cheaper to deploy and making failover among links transparent to end users, SD-WAN can reduce both WAN outages and WAN troubleshooting costs by 90%.
This article originally appeared on the Comcast Business Community.