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How to Optimize Business Continuity with SDN

As businesses become increasingly dependent on technology, a failure in the network (even for a short time) can result in drastic losses in revenue and severe damages to customer satisfaction. Today, it is crucial that a business's network remains operational 24/7/365. As hurricane season heats up, CIOs are fine-tuning their business continuity plans to not only stay afloat in this time of threat, but to stay ahead.

The center of each business continuity plan is redundancy. To achieve redundancy, CIOs are moving business critical applications into multiple data centers and the cloud. This practice ensures that if a company's building or data center falls victim to a disaster, applications remain operational and the business remains unaffected. However, as the business network operates between multiple data centers with increased traffic, a new challenge comes to light: How can a CIO ensure the same quality of experience from a user to multiple data centers without overspending on bandwidth?

The answer comes down to three letters: SDN.

Traditionally, if you wanted to deliver a seamless customer experience from a user to multiple data centers, a CIO would call for an increase in bandwidth of Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) connectivity. While this would create the same end-user experience, this plan poses myriad inconveniences.

Although MPLS provides security and service-level guarantees, it is much too rigid to allow for network optimization. Furthermore, configuration management and provisioning efforts are time-consuming and labor-demanding. MPLS lacks the flexibility to adjust bandwidth in real time based on business needs. As a result, the enterprise is paying for MPLS bandwidth regardless of whether it is being used or not. To achieve true optimization in hopes of creating a dynamic network, the solution is no longer to arbitrarily throw bandwidth at the problem.

To decrease expenses but retain business continuity, enterprises are starting to look at moving data and applications over a broadband connection as a viable option. Yet, companies remain hesitant. Without the guarantee of quality of service for latency-sensitive traffic, this move is risky at best. Though the cost-savings are attractive, businesses are not willing to sacrifice user experience to attain it. Software-defined networking (SDN) technologies are virtualizing networks, creating a more dynamic network that can be efficiently provisioned in real-time through automation.

Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solutions aim to provide centralized control and ease network provisioning, all while virtualizing the network and optimizing network orchestration. Complexity of orchestration is reduced as the network routes and reroutes traffic automatically, giving priority to mission-critical applications based on software-defined policies. With end-to-end visibility, an SD-WAN solution uses a centralized control platform to manage traffic around congested paths. This provides business continuity for unavailable applications in the case of server failure, or even unavailable data centers in the event of a disaster. Because the network is software-defined, a change in routing is as simple as utilizing the centralized control to re-configure the network efficiently, the adjustment of which is immediate.

As SD-WAN enables an enterprise to configure the network to give priority to applications that are mission-critical, extraneous bandwidth is no longer necessary to ensure a quality end-user experience. The automation also allows enterprises to provision the network to adjust necessary bandwidth as it fluctuates to satisfy disparate business processes, resulting in a pay-as-you-go experience for the customer.

SD-WAN solutions are eradicating the rigidity experienced by the MPLS connection by allowing for automated provisioning, real-time configuration, and optimization of the network. As 87% of medium and large North American enterprises surveyed by Infonetics intend to have SDN live in the data center by 2016, it is clear that the dynamic capabilities of these solutions are driving changes in the industry. Because of these advanced technologies that are virtualizing networks, enterprises are able to achieve business continuity all while experiencing huge cost-savings.

David Tipping is the Vice President and General Manager of Products for Sonus Networks .