SD-WAN promises ground-breaking network optimization so why the cold feet?

November 16, 2016
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IT departments are starting to think about their wide area network (WAN) strategies to ensure application performance based on the quality of the network route taken.  It’s a lot like driving. When you need to get somewhere on time, but you’ve hit traffic on that route you’ve always taken, you’d never have guessed the traffic conditions using a road atlas. Similarly, your satnav might have told you about traffic congestion too late to reroute. But, Apps like Waze and Google Maps, with combined multiple datasets, like roadside cameras, police reports and social media updates, make a huge difference in your journey. There’s an analogy with companies’ data centers and networks.

Currently IT teams have two options. They are reliant on either ‘road atlas’ network path selection or ‘intelligent satnav’ SD-WAN, however, both have their limitations right now. With the build-up of the SD-WAN market, this is all about to change. But there are barriers. 

Despite Gartner’s estimate that 30 percent of firms will use SD-WAN by 2019, these capabilities have not been fully defined for IT professionals. And there’s no one product that meets every firm’s needs.  Secondly, organizations don’t habitually monitor the WAN to fully understand application performance needs. So we are back to the car driver, dependent on the road atlas or the car’s satnav. 

Here’s how the options look today.

Atlas or intelligent satnav?

In the ‘road atlas’ SD-WAN approach, organizations set up a defined traffic path. They have a clear approach but just like the road atlas user, no awareness of temporary traffic jams, accidents, and roadwork. 

The second ‘intelligent satnav’ category uses data insights to provide better service capabilities for real-time applications or gain greater value from a multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) network. This category inspects traffic on a packet-by-packet basis, multiple times per second, to better understand the network and make automatic traffic routing decisions. 

However, neither of these approaches currently reduces any infrastructure on site. To decide which SD-WANapproach fits best, firms need ‘next stage’ insights, both into current network performance and future network needs. 

The ability to remove branch infrastructure and achieve zero-touch deployments will come from SD-WAN solutions with centrally-managed WAN edge devices placed in remote or branch offices to establish logical connections with other branch edge devices across the physical WAN – much like real-time, community-based traffic and navigation apps that direct car drivers. These connections provide real-time monitoring data as well as intelligent and secure paths across multiple WAN connections and carriers, such as hybrid Internet and MPLS architectures.

Enablement

The breakthrough lies in firms changing their culture of operating static networks and embracing more intelligent approaches. Just as a driver needs smarter driving apps, so a network manager needs to identify key SD-WANcharacteristics to define the correct traffic route for their company’s needs, including:

  • SD-WAN-ready thinking:  In new SD-WAN thinking, networks identify the right route at the right time for the application: higher priority, sensitive traffic can be sent over private links with lower priority items over the public Internet.  Bandwidth is allotted intelligently, according to actual data loads.  
  • Existing capabilities: WAN optimization technologies also facilitate de-duplication that dispenses with multiple instances of data on the network and ensures that it is stored in one place. Another benchmark is data caching of critical assets on hosted servers, lifting bandwidth constraints and enabling users to download files faster. WANoptimisation can be coupled with SD-WAN techniques for maximum efficiencies.
  • Accelerating applications:Smart IT teams already use compression and de-duplication to boost application performance but they won’t have true optimization without a fuller understanding of protocols and reducing latency.  SD-WAN can be used to prioritize protocols such as voice and video, traditional applications that are not optimizable. A pharma firm plagued by variable bandwidth worldwide implemented SD-WAN to route data more intelligently over their WAN, resulting in network resilience and clean data, no dropped packets for any VoIP/video apps, removal of jitter and a 25% network efficiency uplift. 
  • Application performance management (APM): Better visibility of applications with SD-WAN is vital to giving end users better service. APM helps detect and resolve application performance issues before the problem escalates or affects stakeholders.  A global law firm eradicated keyboard stroke ghosting in their virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution running over the WAN and latency in video and case management applications by implementing intelligent quality of path features. It achieved effective thin client computing worldwide, better video calls, collaborations and case billing. 
  • Consolidation: SD-WAN also enables consolidation of assets. By minimizing their remote office hardware footprint, companies can save on running costs and also move towards hyper-converged infrastructures. 

SD-WAN promises groundbreaking network optimization. Yet, some organizations still want to wait.  But like an old-school motorist delaying their use of smart driving apps, companies won’t deploy these technologies meaningfully until they start actively assessing networks and identifying desired performance criteria for them.