In this three-part series, we examine why software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) has started to become so popular. We also answer all the questions you wanted to ask about SD-WAN, including what it is and what challenges it solves along with the benefits and the approach you should take when considering a SD-WAN deployment.

Enterprises grappling with digital transformations are starting to realise their traditional network configurations are simply no longer up to the task. That’s why market research firms like GlobalData are seeing more and more companies moving networks away from traditional networking technologies such as multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) and Ethernet, towards software-defined architectures that offer speed, agility and flexibility.

“The demand is undeniable, and [software-defined]-WAN is happening now,” said GlobalData’s Asia technology market analyst, Siow Meng Soh. “Besides potential cost-savings, SD-WAN offers enterprises a much greater level of control over their networks and therefore, most of the early adopters are self-managing the solution.”

GlobalData expects this trend to accelerate as network technology providers are now actively partnering with SD-WAN vendors to provide practical solutions to create hybrid networks for companies that have MPLS/Ethernet networks that want to leverage SD-WAN.

The digital transformation challenge for Australian companies

Connectivity is the key bottleneck for digital transformations now, to cope with significant growth of new web-based, digital applications as well as supporting on-premises legacy software applications.

The cost of bandwidth is increasing with the demand for voice, cloud-based services and video collaboration applications. This ramps up the connectivity requirements for all enterprises, across all industries.

Providing a consistent user (and customer) experience is now a key challenge, again with increased capacities and demand on the networks, organisations are finding they need to re-architect and boost bandwidth to provide a consistent network experience. New classes of devices, applications and collaborative tools are conspiring to generate a mix of traffic ranging from personal to business to mission-critical. Traditional solutions lack the ability to prioritise and segment network traffic according to day-to-day needs.

SD-WAN - a silver bullet?

CIOs looking to transform their IT environments to support digital transformation will quickly come up against a barrier. It turns out that public cloud computing has rendered traditional network architectures almost obsolete, from suboptimal performance and higher costs of bandwidth consumption to cater for network-hungry digital applications and collaborative technologies.

Enter SD-WAN. A new category of network architecture, SD-WAN provides simple, cost-effective branch-office connectivity compared to traditional routers. Software-defined technologies such as SD-WAN offer benefits compared with traditional router-based WANs. They provide visibility over network state and give network administrators speed, agility and control across a software-defined architecture.

The key benefits include:

  •   Simplified architectures
  •   Simplified operations
  •   Simplified security
  •   Lowered connectivity costs

This is the reason SD-WAN adoption is growing rapidly. It can be confusing as there are many network service providers (NPSs) now offering managed SD-WAN services, all promising to improve your operational management. However, while there are indeed benefits to be gained from moving to SD-WAN, it’s important to recognise that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

With more than 30 vendors now offering (or claiming to offer) solutions, it’s important to do your homework before considering a move from traditional routers to SD-WAN. This includes pilot and testing solutions before deploying enterprise-wide, so you can determine whether SD-WAN solves your particular challenges.

Taking a measured approach

In this series of articles, we will take a deeper look at SD-WAN, and the challenges it overcomes. As always, when a technology is in its ascendency it can be tempting to think it will solve all your challenges. While SD-WAN can certainly help address the challenges arising from digital transformations, its’ important for leaders responsible for planning, managing and sourcing network infrastructure options to take a moment to assess the landscape.

The times to consider SD-WAN solutions is when you are migrating applications to a public cloud environment, building a hybrid WAN, refreshing branch WAN equipment or renegotiating a managed network service contract.

Before moving straight into a SD-WAN deployment, consider piloting a solution within a branch office – this can help you assess how complex the migration will be. A pilot can also help you understand transportation or equipment costs.

Finally, make sure you shortlist a wide selection of vendors, as selecting the right vendor will be critical to a successful deployment. As the technology is very new, this may be the most critical part of your approach.