SD-WAN: a new approach to networking

14 August 2019

Todd Kiehn

Todd Kiehn

As businesses become more reliant on software applications, the enterprise networking environment is becoming increasingly challenging. Cloud-based applications require greater flexibility, agility, and scalability from underlying networks.

There is little room for sub-optimal performance, as businesses, their employees and their customers expect a consistently smooth and seamless experience. Failure to provide this can directly impact users and ultimately business revenue.

The good news is that for more companies the solution to this may lie in software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) that is designed to improve efficiency, network reliability, and performance, and even has the potential to cut costs.

Introducing SD-WAN

SD-WAN originally appeared on Gartner’s influential Hype Cycle back in 2015. Three years later, industry research firm Ovum estimates that 34 percent of enterprises have now deployed SD-WAN and that an additional 46 percent plan to deploy the technology in the next two years. SD-WAN’s meteoric rise in popularity stems from its innovative approach to network management, providing enhanced control, visibility, and performance.

Unlike a traditional router, it combines hardware and software at the customer premises with a central network intelligence function that understands the performance of applications over all available connections at all sites. The device interprets the traffic being sent and uses dynamic path routing to ensure that this traffic reaches its destination with the appropriate priority.

Europac is a great example of this. As one of the most innovative manufacturers of sustainable packaging in Europe, it uses GTT’s SD-WAN to connect its 18 paper and packaging factories and six waste management facilities in Spain, France and Portugal. Consequently, the company has been able to streamline its operations and processes across the entire value chain. This enables Europac to manage change in its manufacturing operations. SD-WAN adds flexibility and allows Europac to optimize its network to support cloud-based applications that are fundamental to the digital strategy.

As IT and applications today are often hosted in different geographies from their users, SD-WAN is helping make the network simpler to configure and control. Making the routing software defined allows network control to be separated from the underlying hardware. SD-WAN allows implementation of a new approach to supporting global locations, including the ability to manage multiple types of connections.

Key Considerations

Due to its potential to improve overall business performance and efficiency, SD-WAN has also captivated the interest of the C-suite. For companies considering investing in SD-WAN, there are several factors to consider.

First, it’s important to understand the maturity level, skill, and experience of the enterprise IT team, and map this to the level of support needed from the service provider when migrating from an early trial stage of deployment to a full production environment. Pure-play SD-WAN vendors will offer impressive technology, but they don’t provide the underlying network, and they rely on the IT staff to select the right network access solutions. Furthermore, IT staff members usually need considerable help in understanding how to adopt SD-WAN technology to suit their enterprise’s environment and business priorities. Enterprises also need to be aware that the end-to-end control and predictability of their mission-critical applications is much more difficult to achieve with internet service providers that cannot offer efficient, low-latency internet access to their cloud or Software-as-a-Service provider. On the other hand, opting to have a network service provider manage the service can ensure delivery of the core network, efficient internet access, and multiple access options — all aligning to the specific mission-critical application requirements of the business enterprise.

Secondly, while it is important to carefully consider cost savings when evaluating an SD-WAN solution, a company should avoid thinking of SD-WAN as just a connectivity service for reducing costs. It is much more than that. The evaluation process should also consider all the other benefits of an SD-WAN solution from the standpoint of simplified network management and improved application performance, which will translate into real business value across the enterprise.

SD-WAN as a Disruptor

The growth in enterprise digital transformation and resulting migration of applications to the cloud have placed pressure on traditional wide area network architectures, as enterprises move from a data center-centric to cloud-centric IT platform model. This change has far-reaching implications for enterprises’ bandwidth usage requirements and for the distributed nature of their enterprise networks.

Ultimately, SD-WAN is a disruptor. It’s changing the nature of the WAN market. SD-WAN is a powerful solution delivering performance benefits to businesses managing cloud-hosted applications. With the pace of digitalization set to increase, businesses will need to embrace SD-WAN in order to evolve their networks for a cloud-based future.

By Todd Kiehn, VP product management – GTT Communications