Is SD-WAN the Silver Bullet for the Network in the Digital Era?

SD-WAN

SD-WAN
(Image: Pixabay)

As the digital world takes hold faster than anyone can seemingly adapt, businesses are racing to become more agile and achieve ubiquitous access to applications and multi-collaboration platforms to improve global productivity.

And to that end, the need to build omni-channel access for enhanced customer engagement while protecting the business from external threats creates a complex situation that puts tremendous pressure on enterprise bandwidth demands.

A recent digital transformation report from 451 research found that 53 percent of enterprises see modernizing IT infrastructure for scale, speed, availability, and efficiency as the most effective way to achieve business agility.  However, one of the least agile components in today’s IT infrastructure is the underlying WAN.

As businesses grow and become more connected, and as the workforce becomes more mobile, it becomes prohibitively rigid and increasingly expensive to keep adding more dedicated network capacity to legacy private WANs. However, at the same time, the public internet faces critical security and reliability concerns which make it unfit for business-critical applications. 

Next-generation WAN

There is little debate that the solution to the networking challenges of the digital era is an SD-WAN architecture. There are three key elements driving SD-WAN’s growth from a business perspective - decreasing cost while increasing productivity, simplifying IT operations and future proofing the business.

The right approach to building the next generation WAN is critical to successful digital transformation. The platform must be scalable and secure and able to operate in a hybrid cloud environment. Enterprises need open and agnostic access layers which allow them to use multiple technologies, best-in-class suppliers (globally) and business broadband sourced locally (“BYONetwork”). 

The ability to create a hybrid set up in this environment is the foundation of the next generation “hybrid SD-WAN.” This intelligent overlay brings all this together.  It sits on top of a complex hybrid IT infrastructure to maximize the application performance across multiple connections, provide security as an embedded feature and offer centralized analytics to extend better visibility and control.

A hybrid SD-WAN can give forward-thinking enterprises the agility, scalability, and network intelligence that the business needs, and the flexibility of taking existing investments along on the digital journey.

Keeping it real

Consider this scenario. An enterprise wants to expand its business by adding five more international offices. Cloud makes it possible to add multiple users to its SaaS subscription in just a few minutes. But the company also needs to consider other aspects that are critical for the enterprise network – namely security, integrated service levels, optimized user experience, and application provisioning policies for remote and branch office workers.

This leads them to a hybrid SD-WAN enabled network, because it creates an agile, flexible platform for business growth while enabling seamless management of the network. Moreover, the new network will lead to significant cost savings because the IT team is able to manage traffic and even deploy applications globally in real-time. What would have previously taken a global business, with thousands of employees, days or weeks, can now be done in an hour.

Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s look at a real-life example. European beverage distributor Carlsberg deploy a new hybrid SD-WAN network to support the innovative initiatives driving the digital transformation of its operations in 130 sites across Western Europe. As a result of its growing use of cloud-based applications, 70 percent of Carlsberg’s network traffic is now on the Internet. The new network, which replaced most of the legacy MPLS network, has given the brewer 10 times more bandwidth, reduced costs by 25 percent, and halved the occurrence of network incidents. 

Visteon, a leading automotive supplier of innovative cockpit electronics and autonomous driving enabling electronic products, is on a similar path. Their move to a cloud-first strategy was triggered by an existing inflexible infrastructure that was impeding innovation and the new pace of business growth. With a hybrid SD-WAN solution, Visteon has been able to quickly move into an agile mode to enhance customer experience, business flexibility, and expansion into different geographies including emerging markets like China, without compromising security.

No silver bullet

While these stories show the potential of hybrid SD-WAN, the fact remains that networks today are 10 times more complex than they were 10 years back, and even with new architectures like SD-WAN, there is no one “silver bullet” to make such complex environments succeed – each layer must be addressed.  To that end, it is critical that enterprises not underestimate the complexity of the underlay.

Some organizations prefer to use the DIY approach and split the underlay from the overlay, and then proceed with parallel procurement paths.  At the other end, certain enterprises are leaning toward a low-risk, managed Hybrid SD-WAN approach a la Carlsberg and Visteon. 

These organizations are committed to an Internet-first or Cloud-first strategy. They tend to have a higher number of diverse sites to connect to (e.g. factories, branch offices, R&D centers, partners, sales offices), and rely more on Internet and Cloud to connect with users, partner and suppliers. They also lack IT capacity to manage end-to-end network services and need a comprehensive, agile and globally consistent solution for connecting to cloud service providers and other value-added services.

In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all or a silver bullet for network transformation–each enterprise faces different circumstances, chooses the level of control they keep and uses their own decision criteria to meet their strategic business outcomes.