As an unprecedented pandemic swept the globe in 2020, businesses were forced to change the way they worked and change it fast. Entire workforces were emptied out of traditional offices to work remotely from home, and data and workloads were moved into the cloud in order to make them accessible from anywhere.
These necessary changes have since raised questions as to whether traditional wide area networking (WAN) offers the flexibility that a modern day businesses needs as they digitally transform. Traditional WAN was designed with the assumption that members of an organisation would coexist under one roof, and that data would be stored centrally and internally.
This notion has become almost antiquated as cloud-based technology has advanced. Increasingly businesses prefer to store data and access applications partly or entirely in the cloud, offering more freedom as to when and where organisations can carry out their operations. Although this is not a new concept, the coronavirus pandemic has likely steered some organisations into a digital transformation ahead of time.
Fast forward a year and the coronavirus pandemic has become part of everyday life, and shows no sign of backing off into the shadows. Some organisations have now worked remotely for over a year, and many have embraced this different way of working with some choosing to continue, even when the pandemic is over.
Organisations adopting this new approach are increasingly looking at different types of WAN architecture, which offer more flexibility and better serve their needs. In particular, more and more businesses are turning to Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) to navigate this new way of working.
What is SD-WAN?
Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) is a type of networking whereby the network is separated from the underlying circuits, creating a software defined overlay over the transport layer or underlay. Organisations using SD-WAN will likely define multiple overlay networks which are managed by a central controller.
When policies or changes are required across the network, they are actioned in the software and delivered at network scale rather than by managing individual devices. This has obvious benefits to organisations with multiple locations of operation as well as managing devices and applications for remote workers.
At each location within the network, edge devices handle routing and local firewalls, and traffic across SD-WAN is encrypted to ensure data is fully secure. Security policies are also managed centrally. This added security is vital for any organisation, but especially for those handling sensitive data.
SD-WAN offers real-time visibility of what is happening on the network allowing for more detailed analytics. This visibility allows business leaders to make decisions and identifies areas where optimisations can be made. Automated policies can also be set to deal with fluctuations in traffic and workload, ensuring quality of service and experience aren’t impaired.
Organisations usually adopt SD-WAN as a managed service, provided and maintained by a third party, however some smaller organisations with less complex requirements sometimes choose to implement SD-WAN in-house.
What are the benefits of SD-WAN?
The main benefits of SD-WAN fall into the following three categories;
- Enhanced security.
- Improved network resiliency and optimisation.
- Increased operational agility.
As previously mentioned, all traffic on SD-WAN is encrypted for increased security, even when traffic is sent over the public internet. There is an overhead associated with this however, for example potential latency whereby there is a delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer.
If SD-WAN is being provided as a service, it is the service provider’s responsibility to offer an appropriately scaled network that can navigate these overheads. If SD-WAN is being implemented in-house, it’s important to factor in potential overheads during the network’s conception.
Traffic on SD-WAN can be sent to an external provider for threat analysis, which eliminates the need for data to be backhauled to internal data centres for analysis. This frees up private circuits and the associated drag on performance. Also, with edge devices installed at all locations, local firewall protection is offered.
Another key benefit is that security policies, such as anti-virus policies, access or URL filtering can be set up centrally and rolled out across the network, giving businesses reassurance that their data is protected at all times. SD-WAN also allows for greater segmentation of the network, with different areas easily being given different levels of protection and access.
Finally, by using certain SD-WAN appliances offered by service providers for remote employees, members of an organisation can access corporate WAN through their normal network authentication process. This means all of their business traffic will be fully encrypted and adhering to the security policies and controls set up by the business, and will be kept completely separate from their domestic traffic.
Network Resiliency and Optimisation
Traditional WAN has been designed by engineers who decide to route traffic down what they believe to be the best paths, considering all information available at that time. These networks will also have been designed at a time when the main focus was on internal traffic which as you can imagine, is not suited to most modern businesses today.
These traditional networks are ill equipped to deal with changes within the business, including new workloads or workflows and multiple and mobile locations of operation. The network dictates which traffic is routed where, abiding by the original rules it was designed with. This does offer resiliency, however it fails to provide quality with regards to how traffic is routed through the network.
SD-WAN offers far greater flexibility with regards to how traffic travels through the network. Service providers with access to a wide range of circuits can prioritise traffic based on both type and quality, making use of all available circuits reactively to deliver traffic in the most efficient way. This included utilising all available networks, including third-party networks, public internet and even 4G.
Because SD-WAN creates a software defined overlay over the transport layer or underlay, it allows for far greater flexibility (in real-time) of how traffic is managed. This real-time flexibility allows SD-WAN to navigate potential issues if a primary circuit does fail. A good example would be a remote worker whose home broadband connection goes down. The network could instinctively and seamlessly switch the worker’s connection to 4G to ensure uninterrupted service, allowing the worker to continue with their tasks.
SD-WAN also allows businesses to set policies to allow traffic to break out of the network into chosen cloud-based partners. As an example, this could be the migration of large volumes of data into cloud-based analytics tools. Some service providers also offer optimised connections directly into cloud applications or Software as a Service (SaaS) providers such as NetSuite, a leading cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution.
The ultimate aim of SD-WAN networks is to provide a flexible network which can adapt to the changing needs of a business. SD-WAN goes beyond the principle of quality of service, instead adopting the approach of quality of service.
Increased Operational Agility
Typical SD-WAN packages offered by managed service providers usually include access to in-depth analytics. This allows administrators to gain a real-time insight into network performance at all times. This in turn allows them to identify weaknesses, and make the necessary optimisations to rectify any issues.
Over time, this insight and continual optimisation can be used to inform new policies within the network to better manage an organisation’s key applications and workloads. This allows the network to constantly evolve to meet the needs imposed on it by an organisation. Traditional legacy networks simply can’t evolve with this kind of agility and would instead, force new workloads and workflows to work within the constraints of the existing network setup.
SD-WAN also provides far greater flexibility and agility with regards to adding new operational locations and remote workers. Because configuration and policies are managed centrally, there is less requirement for engineers to physically visit sites or employees to configure their equipment. Equipment at existing locations, new locations or even in an employee’s own homes can be plugged in, switched on and the entire setup completed remotely. Ultimately, the entire process becomes a zero touch operation.
For bigger businesses where mergers and acquisitions are commonplace, SD-WAN can be of significant value. Often when a company merges with or acquires another business, it will inherit the existing network of the other company creating two networks which are at odds with each other. SD-WAN providers can provide an overlay network at the acquired sites which creates identical to the parent firm. This creates one logical network that the merged companies can now share.
The way businesses operate has changed immensely over the years, and the pace of this change seems to constantly increase. In order to compete, it’s essential that a business’s systems and network can evolve quickly and efficiently to meet the changing needs of the business.
Traditional WAN has provided a robust network solution for countless businesses over the years, but as the way we work changes, it’s rigidity has seen it falling out of favour with modern businesses. It’s inability to be optimised or evolved simply doesn’t service the needs of a growing business with new and improved workloads.
SD-WAN has provided a solution to these constraining legacy networks. Offering a real-time view of network performance, SD-WAN allows businesses to constantly evolve and optimise the network to better service business demands. This combined with increased security and the ability to manage the entire network centrally makes SD-WAN an obvious move on for businesses who’s networks are starting to constrain growth.
At Eventura, we have been providing managed networks to businesses for almost 20 years. We pride ourselves on building network solutions that not only fit your business now, but evolve with you as you grow. If your current network has become a choke point in your business and you’d like to speak to one of our managed network experts, you can request a free call back here.