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How to Build an Agile Future-Proof Network

SD-WAN

SD-WAN
(Image: Pixabay)

Embracing digital transformation is essential for forward-thinking businesses, and an agile network is crucial for organization-wide digital transformation. Network agility is all about having an infrastructure that can respond to your business needs based on human or technical triggers, such as network congestion and changing customer trends. Today's software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) technologies with APIs are key components of agile networking, as they enable you to make policy-based changes to your network, and switch links in near-real-time to tackle congestion. 

Upskill to meet the needs of the business

Today's IT professionals must upskill in APIs and SD-WAN to deliver agile networking. Many of them have grown up using tickets to respond manually to the requirements of different lines of business. In that old world of IT, it has been completely normal and acceptable for the roll-out of a new application to take a couple of weeks.

But now, lines of business expect to have secure and reliable access to that new application in a matter of hours, or even minutes. If IT can’t do that, lines of business will find their own way of doing things. This can lead your organization down the slippery slope of shadow IT, where IT projects are managed outside of the IT department. That is why it is so crucial that businesses upskill their IT teams, and if needed, seek the help of networking experts to get them trained up on agile networking technologies. Programming and SD-WAN skills are a must to enable IT teams to respond more quickly to the constantly growing needs of the business. 

SD-WAN: not a quick fix

Some think that it is possible to achieve network agility by simply slapping an SD-WAN on top of a traditional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network. While SD-WAN offers businesses greater control and visibility over any type of network, SD-WAN on its own won't boost capability and capacity – the two key enablers of network agility. 

If the current enterprise network is already choking due to limited bandwidth, putting an SD-WAN on top will just cause performance to falter even more. This is because SD-WAN can take up to 20 percent of bandwidth for the management of traffic. So, if you have a 2MB link, putting SDWAN on that link means that you will have less than 1.6MB left for users – leading to much worse application and network performance than they had to begin with.

That is why it is not possible to achieve network agility just with SD-WAN, without upgrading the underlying network first.

Lay the groundwork

To build a future-proof, agile network requires a rethink of the network foundations, combining the public internet and private networks for maximum scalability, security, and cost-effectiveness. Starting small, in one region, for example, is often a less disruptive approach than a complete global network overhaul.

To illustrate, we deployed a network like this for Carlsberg in just five months – a year less than the industry standard – and did this during the FIFA World Cup, which is one the busiest times of the year for the brewer. As the growing use of cloud-based applications has led to 70 percent of Carlsberg's network traffic being on the internet, the new agile network has given the brewer ten times more bandwidth, reduced costs by 25 percent, and halved the occurrence of network incidents.

Well begun is half done

Whether you want to start in one region like Carlsberg or do a global overhaul, you must evaluate the capabilities and performance of your current network before implementing SD-WAN to boost network agility. Furthermore, while SD-WAN and APIs help eliminate the manual effort needed to respond to business needs, these technologies also call for a renewed focus on measuring performance to ensure that your applications and the underlying network perform as they should. 

So, to achieve network agility requires a bottoms-up review and redesign of your network. The key points to address are: what does good enough look like for your business? How quickly are you able to respond to application migration requests? How quickly are you able to deploy new links for backups?  How quickly can you boost capacity at critical times to help the business react to rapidly changing market conditions? 

The right mix of technologies, the right skills to deploy and manage them, and a step-by-step approach will help businesses turn their legacy WAN into an agile network. It will enable them to respond more quickly to business needs as market conditions change or new opportunities emerge and accelerate organization-wide digital transformation.

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