The idea isn’t new. Nor is the technology. But with its value proposition clearer by the day, SD-WAN is having “a moment” . From boardroom to boxroom, the cry goes up: “Let’s get SD-WAN. That’ll solve everything!”
As with most wishful thinking, reality is quick to bite you on the backside.
Let’s be clear. SD-WAN isn’t one flavor of technology. Even less one-size-fits all. It’s not an architecture, or a managed service, or a “solution” that plugs and plays straight from the box. As with all things IT, there are no quick fixes, no silver bullets, no shortcuts.
To make the most of SD-WAN’s potential …. you need the right technologies working with it.
With the right combination, SD-WAN can deliver the critical success factors of cost / value / function as a long-term solution for your business networking—whether your current setup is MPLS by carrier, Tier-1 on the backbone, or a hybrid with a reputable MSP. It’s all about focusing on what matters.
So what does matter?
Let’s push aside the marketing magic, and make some magic of our own—the business drivers for SD-WAN in the real world.
Defining the software-defined: what is SD-WAN?
First up is to understand what SD-WAN is and isn’t—in a way that’d make sense to your C-Level people. Including those with no skin in the technology game.
Software-defined Wide Area Networking often sounds like some sort of standard protocol, like IP. But what SD-WAN is not is a network architecture. Nor is it an essentially fixed infrastructure, like MPLS, with defined routing tables operating on private circuits. And it’s certainly not broadband service provision from an ISP!
These are precisely the decisions you need to think about to get the most from SD-WAN. Not the software, but what surrounds it.
Think of it as a product
So what is SD-WAN? It’s a product. A product overlaid on other technologies that enable it to function well, the same way cars need roads—making the entire solution fit for your business purposes, whatever they are.
So while SD-WAN solutions are by definition software-based, unlocking their value depends on hardware infrastructure. Like any other application.
The real value of an SD-WAN is in how it makes better use of networking infrastructure—whatever that infrastructure is. You’ll see SD-WANs operating over private networks and connected sites, within data centres outside and inhouse, even whizzing around on traditional MPLS. And in many cases, the underlay includes managed services from an MSP.
“SD-WANs provide a lightweight replacement for traditional WAN routers to transport traffic across …. mediums such as MPLS, internet, [and] 4G/LTE.”
- Gartner Group
Dynamic change trumps static samey-ness
For a long time in networking—still true for many organisations today—the value of a network came from keeping the fizzing, bubbling, anything-goes nature of packet switching under control.
Internet Protocol builds its own pathways and routes around damage, yes. But in an MNC of any scale, all that sidestepping and shuffling costs bandwidth. So technologies like MPLS guided those packets with Stentorian firmness, setting fixed routing tables your data had no choice but to follow.
An SD-WAN harks back to that fizzy, bubbly idea … and makes it better. WANs defined in software use the flexibility of IP in an improved way, actively measuring the performance of each routing circuit to optimise and improve, nearly in real time. When teamed with other technologies—like cloud acceleration—their performance can be optimized even further.
The point of SD-WAN is to bring hands-off flexibility and adaptability to your network infrastructure — provisioning the resources you need, when you need them. Tailor-made, on the fly.
An SD-WAN’s algorithms constantly look for the best path for your data, optimising every connection, always looking for the best way to get packets from A to B. If there’s an optimum routing, they’ll use it.
That’s what an SD-WAN does—and the best do it very well indeed. Which is our first reason for putting it on your consideration list. Of course, for this to work, you need an infrastructure capable of making it shine. Of which more later.
VPN as a fundamental feature
Virtualizing the WAN like this carries another benefit: it has VPN capabilities practically by definition. Encrypted with the usual bells and whistles—128 bits and up—SD-WAN traffic is secured at a basic level, whether 0% or 100% of it is carried on public network infrastructure. And this doesn’t preclude you adding additional security at the authentication or application level.
In other words, it’s secure by design. Which makes a great base for your inhouse firewall or access gateways. End-to-end privacy for your business information, whatever device needs it. In fact, if SD-WAN has an overarching design goal, this is it—to keep your data flowing securely across different chunks of network gear, without caring too much what that hardware is.
Now the caveat. Whatever those bits and pieces of technology are, they still need hygiene factors: reliability, availability, capacity, speed. So once again, SD-WAN performance depends on network infrastructure. In past decades, that function fell to leased lines or private networks; today, there are other options.
With that in mind, here’s the real point of difference between a poor SD-WAN … and a terrific one.
The not-so-secret secret
To restate our theme: if your connectivity between sites isn’t fast and reliable, the SD-WAN will suffer. You can’t change the laws of physics … or the needs of virtualization algorithms. It’s all about the underlay.
And with recent improvements in ground and cloud connectivity among third party solutions providers (including Managed Service Providers like Expereo) many MNCs are discovering internet-age solutions are a superior option. Business broadband with service levels guaranteed by other technologies can offer a step change in service—often with a step down in costs.
Now that’s a winning combo.
Imagine your solution running not on your pricey MPLS setup, or your reliable but limited Tier-1 connection, or even your private leased line …. but on a solution that combines SD-WAN and Cloud Acceleration, twin technologies working together .
Cloud Acceleration plays together beautifully with business broadband. It’s part of Expereo’s solution suite: technology that watches over your SD-WAN, with all the applications you use every day, looking for traffic jams and go-slows as data crosses offices and borders. Then it optimizes them, smoothing the ebb and flow of everyday internet service into something much more like a private network infrastructure.
That’s Cloud Acceleration for your SD-WAN. In combination with a managed business internet service, it offers you a fresh alternative to MPLS.
Best of all, you don’t need to make the change all at once. A global organisation with (say) 200 sites can deploy broadband internet with Cloud Acceleration at non-critical sites first. Then move to business-critical and finally mission-critical applications, running down expensive legacy technologies like MPLS as and when it makes business sense to do so. All maintaining complete business continuity as you roll out.
For many enterprises today, SD-WAN over business broadband is the solution of tomorrow.
And tomorrow’s not far away.
SD-WANs are a great technology, with a lot to offer today’s multinational. So is SD-WAN your magic solution? No. But it can be … if you make best use of its flexibility to fit it to your needs.
An internet-only SD-WAN can still suffer from bottlenecks and blockages. But team it with Cloud Acceleration and you’ll see those issues dissolve, MPLS-style. And the result will be more adaptable, faster to roll out, and easier to expand.
Why not look at the advantages of SD-WAN over a business-capable MSP solution (like those from Expereo) could deliver for your organisation?