SD-WAN

Liberating enterprises from the inefficiencies of legacy networks

When it comes to business growth, few things hold a modern enterprise back quite like legacy infrastructure. This rings especially true when it relates to connectivity. In a fast-moving, data-heavy and cloud-dependent digital world, outdated network infrastructure can diminish business performance significantly. Multi-site enterprises therefore need an architecture that supports their requirement for speed, flexibility, security and availability, rather than inhibiting it.

For businesses looking to update and upgrade their network solutions, Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) could be the answer. But, understandably, there is still some uncertainty about the practical application of the technology and the extent of the potential benefits. So, how has SD-WAN evolved – and how can it provide more effective, efficient connectivity for enterprises?

A brief history

SD-WAN is a software layer which simplifies the delivery of WAN services to multiple branch locations. Following a Gartner prediction in 2015 that stated 30 percent of US enterprises would adopt it by 2019, the US began pioneering the technology in 2016 and 2017. Global vendors recognised it was a growing pain and have spent their time in the last couple of years nurturing the US market and ironing out bugs. Now, with these bugs ironed out, focus has shifted to the European market. Adoption levels have since increased with recent research suggesting that one in five US and UK businesses are now running early-stage SD-WAN projects. Likewise, research from Frost & Sullivan has found 61% of global enterprises expect to deploy SD-WAN in the next 24 months. It’s not hard to see why.

SD-WAN is transport agnostic, giving businesses the capability to choose the best and most appropriate method by which the traffic should travel across the network. This provides both better performance and far greater network visibility, giving IT departments the ability to make more informed decisions on how to optimise their network. As a result, SD-WAN can offer the flexibility large organisations require, increased security, a simpler service delivery, and easy collaboration with third parties – the last of which is particularly relevant for enterprises operating in a mature IT environment.

But with SD-WAN still somewhat of an unknown platform (only 54% know about the technology in the UK), adoption has moved at a fairly slow pace. Fortunately, the benefits are becoming clearer, and technical understanding about how it can be implemented is increasing.

The business benefits

By eliminating backhaul penalties and the bottlenecks of hardware-based architectures, SD-WAN can result in a significantly improved user experience, particularly for Cloud or SaaS applications. By providing a secure overlay, SD-WAN enables greater confidentiality, which is crucial for modern businesses in an age of constant cyber threat. As such, investment in this service can resolve some of the security issues surrounding cloud adoption. It also enables much greater flexibility; SD-WAN can be deployed rapidly or easily scale to facilitate demand during peak times, or periods of significant change, for example during mergers and acquisitions. And, as aforementioned, it’s an ideal solution for enterprises who regularly collaborate with third parties.

In addition to the wealth of benefits it offers, SD-WAN also drives network efficiencies, as it enables IT managers to identify potential surplus capacity that can be better utilised. Plus, it can be delivered on a consumption-based billing model. Many enterprises – especially those who experience peaks and troughs in demand – rightly find this to be a more effective budgeting strategy.

The end goal for network architecture

With such a range of benefits on offer, it’s important that SD-WAN is easy to purchase and deploy. In terms of what SD-WAN will look like for customers, we see it becoming the dominant WAN platform for enterprises by 2020. It will primarily be delivered independently of the connectivity service underpinning it, using robust single source architecture with multiple service capabilities.

However, there’s still work to do before adoption can become widespread – primarily in terms of the customer buying process. We expect the market, in the future, will develop towards an ‘app store’ version of an SD-WAN product, with a user interface carefully designed to ensure maximum accessibility. However, due to legacy network architectures, this future is still some way off and in reality, may be for some time.

An effective enabler for accessible connectivity

SD-WAN will become a key enabler of business efficiency, removing the time-consuming requirements of many legacy architectures whilst solving a number of business problems. This means improved performance, better communications, and ultimately the ability to deliver an improved end-customer service for large enterprises – and all with shorter term technology contracts. But although a willingness for transformation from customers is key, it’s ultimately the networks who’ll play the most crucial role, opening accessibility to this new architecture and liberating global enterprises from the pitfalls of their existing legacy networks.

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