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Why You Need SD-WAN in Your Digital Transformation Journey

Organizations in every industry are embarking on digital transformation journeys to keep up with customer demand and be more data-driven. Before diving into digital transformation, enterprises need to understand potential challenges, including a change in data traffic patterns, the move to the cloud, and security.
As more processes are digitized and new applications introduced, the volume of data will rise, creating a more complex environment. Various data sources require a different set of quality-of-service parameters, like latency, packet loss, and throughput, to ensure optimal and predictable performance.
This makes the ability to seamlessly configure the endpoints where data originates and drive actions on those endpoints, along with the ability to quickly set up and tear them down, business critical to many industries.
To support digital initiatives, enterprises are moving to a multicloud world that includes public, private, and hybrid clouds. This further changes the flow of data traffic and the complexity of the environment.
As more data is introduced, cybersecurity becomes an even bigger issue. The value of data combined with continuous movement, diverse origination, and storage options opens the network for more vulnerabilities.
While all networks are impacted by these challenges, WANs experience the biggest burden given their use for connecting global sites and that enterprises also rely heavily on cloud infrastructure. Additionally, WANs are more costly to operate than LANs. Thankfully, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology can help enterprises address these specific challenges and allow their digital journeys to continue.
Understanding What Constitutes SD-WAN
It’s essential to understand the various components on an SD-WAN network. They are:
  • SD-WAN Edge -- The edge is typically installed at the branch or site and signifies where the SD-WAN tunnel begins or terminates. The edge functionality can be implemented as hardware customer premises equipment (CPE) or as virtual CPE on a server with appropriate terminations.
  • SD-WAN Gateway -- The gateway is an optional component that allows sites interconnected through the SD-WAN to link to other sites interconnected through other virtual private network technologies.
  • SD-WAN Controller -- The controller offers physical or virtual device management, enabling configuration and activation of SD-WAN edges and gateways associated with a controller.
  • SD-WAN Orchestrator -- The orchestrator provides SD-WAN service management, enabling end-to-end configuration of the SD-WAN service between the edge over the underlay WAN/internal network, performance, control, assurance, usage, analytics, security, and network policy. Many times, the SD-WAN controller and orchestrator are combined in one entity, and are always hosted in the cloud.
How SD-WAN Can Help
Secure SD-WAN technology enables companies to build high-performance WANs using a combination of lower-cost Internet and higher-cost private technologies, like Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) and customer edge devices. SD-WAN simplifies the management of WANs at a reduced cost and offers greater flexibility by directing traffic between various sites based on business rules.
Key Features of SD-WAN for Digital Transformation
Here are five key features:
  • Intelligent traffic forwarding -- SD-WAN enables application-based forwarding as well as QoS assurance for each of the tunnels. This is a must-have feature in today’s digital era where different applications have varying requirements from the WAN. Unified communication applications such as Cisco's Webex require low latency, whereas Microsoft's Office 365 demands high data integrity. On the other hand, database management and analytics (led by data produced from digitizing various business processes) need both high data integrity and throughputs. The ability of SD-WAN to seamlessly and centrally configure these parameters is key to deploying software-as-a-service applications.
  • Transport independence -- SD-WAN’s ability to create a WAN over different transport technologies such as cable, passive optical network, and LTE and route traffic ensures high availability, a critical success factor for digital transformation. High availability allows for seamless workload and data migration, which can help mitigate the challenges that come with a multicloud strategy. Most of the workload is handled in the cloud, while inputs and consumption of the results are at the edge.
  • Centralized service automation -- The entire SD-WAN network is controlled centrally and lends itself to automation, true to its software-defined characteristic. SD-WAN controllers and orchestrators like Cisco’s vManage can be integrated with IT service management tools like ServiceNow, which enables faster triaging and fixing of issues. Automation implies that the overall operating costs on the network dramatically reduces and ensures a better return on investment.
  • Built-in and add-on security -- The ability to provide high levels of security to the WAN is vital in the digital world, which is susceptible to cyberattacks and data breaches. Most SD-WAN platforms provide built-in security, but the ability of SD-WAN to integrate with other software appliances and service chaining seamlessly enables network administrators to build multiple levels of security. Further, each of the tunnels can be configured to have different levels of security based on the use case.
  • Multilink, multipath configuration -- SD-WAN makes creating a secure WAN over either cheap Internet or expensive traditional WAN technologies like MPLS a reality. Additionally, it’s independent of wired networks such as T1 fiber or wireless networks like 4G and 5G. This allows network administrators to choose the appropriate technology and transport based on the budget available for the network as part of the digital transformation roadmap. It also prevents vendor lock-in by allowing for the organization to be independent of a specific communication service. It helps enterprises do more with less when needed. The feature combined with central configuration is especially relevant to industries like retail and banking where branches with varied transport options are brought up and down quickly.
Moving Forward with Digital Transformation
Enterprises are expected to spend $1.25 trillion and invest at least 10% of revenues in digital transformation programs by 2020, according to IDC. For these programs to be successful, organizations will need to examine their current IT infrastructure and transform it based on the technologies and applications they plan to host in the future.
SD-WAN solutions -- expected to become a $4.1 billion by 2023, according to MarketsandMarkets, offer enterprises enhanced network flexibility and performance functionality and services, creating reliable connections to and from the cloud. As the number of connected devices increases dramatically in branch locations, SD-WAN may be the ideal solution to help organizations achieve their digital transformation objectives.