If a business had the luxury of operating in a static and stable digital landscape, its ideas would flourish uninhibited and its potential would always be within reach.
As the past couple of years have underscored, however, that is most certainly not the case. Each and every business is vulnerable to a maelstrom of external pressures, from economic crises to global pandemics, each with the power to derail their day-to-day operations or at the very least demand a change in strategy. For this reason, more businesses than ever are seeking to mitigate risk and uncertainty from their daily operations, providing their employees with stable and steadfast working environments from wherever in the world they choose to log on.
To this end, an increasing number of business leaders are opting for Software-Defined Wide-Area Networks or SD-WAN as their connectivity tool of choice. Back in 2018, only 18% of businesses globally reported installing SD-WAN on at least part of their network. By 2020, as we began to navigate the choppy waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, that figure had more than doubled to 43%. But are they making the most of this technology? In this article, we’ll explore briefly what SD-WAN is, its myriad benefits, and why not all of those benefits are currently being taken advantage of.
The ‘what’ and ‘why’ of SD-WAN
For those uninitiated, SD-WAN can best be pitched as a virtual WAN architecture that allows enterprises to take advantage of a combination of connectivity services, from MPLS and LTE right through to good old-fashioned broadband. The differentiator between conventional WAN, which was never designed for the cloud, and SD-WAN, is that the latter gives MSPs and businesses the ability to intelligently steer traffic from on-premise data centers, public and private cloud platforms, and even prioritize cloud-based SaaS applications.This kind of “application-aware” routing across a network has untold benefits for businesses of all sizes, but first and foremost, it preserves the QoE (quality of experience) for end-users no matter where they are in the world.
Where more conventional WAN models are rigid and router-centric, simply routing traffic based on TCP/IP addresses and ACLs, SD-WAN enables businesses to take a cloud-first approach to connectivity that can respond dynamically to a business’ needs. For many, this has become a necessity rather than a luxury in a post-pandemic landscape. But how can a business tell if its deployment and configuration of SD-WAN is working as well it should?
Making the most of SD-WAN
What business today wouldn’t be relieved at the prospect of a plug-and-play solution that just works? Go to any SD-WAN vendor, and that’s more than likely what you’ll be greeted with. However, if your goal is to scale your business and perpetually optimize your connectivity as you grow, things get slightly more complicated. As a business, you need to make sure that policy management and steering orchestration is centralized and aligned with your goals as a company. Business-critical applications, for instance, may change from week to week, and your organization needs to be able to make sure those applications are in a “stable” traffic lane with the most optimal performance. Less essential applications, such as chatting or casual collaboration apps, can be moved into a less stable lane where impacts such as traffic and application requirements are less of a concern. It’s a delicate balancing act that all companies need to be prepared to orchestrate if they are to get the most out of their SD-WAN solution. As a bonus, this service-centric approach to traffic optimization will also make it easier to comply with security policies throughout the network.
Things cannot improve without data and insight, so analytics tools that take advantage of open APIs are crucial too. With this, businesses will have better visibility over how their network is performing, allowing them to better classify application traffic and make more informed decisions around load balancing and quality of service.
The case for deploying SD-WAN as a connectivity solution has never been stronger, particularly as the world adapts to new hybrid ways of working. But rather than treating SD-WAN as a commodity or a tick in a box, businesses should instead be seeking to continuously optimize and refine their use of the technology, or at least enter a partnership with a vendor that can offer a similarly dynamic service.
About the Author
Thomas Jongerius is SD-WAN/SASE at Expereo. Technical Lead With over 10 years of experience in network engineering, Thomas joined the engineering team earlier in 2021. As an SD-WAN/SASE Technical Lead, he is driving the technical portfolio for SD-WAN and SASE products within Expereo.