SD-WAN for Digital Transformation - Part 1

Digital transformation means change -- change in IT, networks, business operations, and business models. This means that you need agile, flexible business continuity solutions for your networks. Organizations undergoing digital transformation projects have goals to remain competitive or increase the competitiveness of an organization. Networks need to be more flexible, more responsive to change, and deliver the performance required quickly.

Traditional Network Solutions

Traditionally, all network traffic has been treated equally. With the advent of MPLS and QoS, priority traffic transfer can be delivered. This is accomplished by tagging traffic for priority treatment. It's become apparent that traffic delivery priority should be based on the application communicating and delivered in real time.

Enterprises have adopted MPLS. They have to look at the cost. The Internet is a less expensive alternative but does not always deliver the desired performance. What if we could combine the two worlds together and make traffic forwarding decisions based on real-time network conditions? Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is a candidate to deliver this capability.

What is a SD-WAN?

SD-WAN addresses a shift in application and WAN traffic profiles and delivers a better cost-benefit solution. SD-WANs can help overcome the challenges for digital transformation in a manageable way for the enterprise. The concept is to have at least two or more WAN connections (hybrid WAN) for each branch office. This means leveraging two or more different network connections such as MPLS, broadband, or wireless.

SD-WAN is an active/active network configuration which supports:

  • Centralized control with application-based decision-making
  • Application analytics and network visibility
  • Secure software solution delivery
  • An SD-WAN forwarder, a type of multi-connection router

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Graphic from SDxCentral

Why SD-WAN?

The big question to ask is, "What is wrong with today's connections?" According to a Silver Peak and IDG survey of 160 mid-market and enterprise companies on SD-WAN adoption, there are several WAN connectivity frustrations that surface as trends:

  • 38% of respondents identify cost as the top frustration
  • 14% report the lack of direct connections to cloud and SaaS application
  • 13% indicated their top frustration was the time to configure and unreliable performance
  • Long provisioning time and too much infrastructure at the branch office were reported by 11% of the respondents

SD-WAN Capabilities

SD-WAN technology delivers many advantages over traditional WAN connections:

  • You have Internet and MPLS connections. You can use the Internet as an alternative or in conjunction with MPLS.
  • You can connect to multiple providers. This allows you to switch providers, mix and match providers, or replace MPLS connections with broadband. This flexibility can stimulate providers to ensure service delivery better than their SLAs.
  • Changes in branch office connections and capacity can be implemented much faster, possibly in minutes, not days or weeks.
  • Network performance can be improved and bottleneck issues rapidly resolved.
  • SD-WAN offers greater network visibility and control.
  • It provides access to private line performance when needed.
  • It reduces overall operating costs.

You cannot avoid considering an SD-WAN implementation. The question is when you will migrate to SD-WAN. The graphic below displays the responses to the survey conducted by Silver Peak and IDG.

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Configurations for SD-WAN

There are three common configuration choices for delivering the SD-WAN architecture:

  1. On-premises solution -- In this solution, you have no cloud-based applications, but you have an SD-WAN router on premises. You are probably using MPLS for real-time applications and the Internet for everything else. It offers lower cost, load balancing, traffic shaping, and can help you with business continuity.
  2. Cloud-enabled solution -- You still have an SD-WAN router that acts as a gateway to the cloud. You get the benefits of the on-premises architecture plus increased performance and reliability for your cloud applications. This works best when you are connecting to a number of major cloud applications. The benefits include improved performance, reliability, traffic shaping, and business continuity.
  3. Cloud-enabled solution with a backbone -- You have the on-premises SD-WAN router connecting to the SD-WAN provider's nearest network point of presence. Your traffic traverses the provider's WAN, acting as a private network backbone. This improves real-time traffic performance such as voice, video, and virtual desktop operations. This is most attractive to enterprises that want to eliminate MPLS network costs and do not want to have problems with 100% of the traffic going over the Internet. The primary benefits here are traffic goes over the private backbone, improving performance, reliability, load-balancing, traffic shaping, and business continuity.

Getting C-Level Buy-In

There are several arguments that you can deliver to C-level executives when you propose an SD-WAN for the enterprise:

  • SD-WAN allows legacy packet networks to be replaced by an application-based approach
  • You can eliminate dependencies on the present provider because you can now gain access to multiple providers at the same time
  • Since you are moving to the cloud for some applications, SD-WAN decouples your applications so that they can be cloud ready
  • You could reduce your dependency on proprietary hardware and the associated costs
  • Finally, you can improve the user experience with native applications and network analytics that can be applied to the network

All of this means that you can deliver the agility and flexibility while reducing costs with a positive ROI as the enterprise encompasses digital transformation.

Here are some additional blog resources on digital transformation: