Getting ready for SD-WAN’s new 5G trajectory

A fundamental characteristic of an SD-WAN is its ability to support multiple connection types associated with high-speed cellular networks such as 4G LTE and 5G.
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Nearly a year ago, I noted that “SD-WANs are paving the way for organisations to adopt the next-generation of cloud-based applications”. Today, software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) technology is broadly accepted and is now set for an exciting future.

SD-WAN technology has been described as an innovative approach to network management that supports a dynamic, programmatically-efficient network configuration which is committed to achieving the highest levels of network performance through dedicated monitoring and reporting.

In his e-book, “Open Networking – Life on the Edge”, author Barry McGinley compares the rise to prominence of software-defined networking to a butterfly’s metamorphosis. “Finally, the adult stage is upon us,” he writes. “It’s ready to take flight and spread its wings.”

Key benefits of an SD-WAN include its ability to unify multiple network management consoles and support the collection and collation of data from multiple network devices, traffic flows and network endpoints.

Additionally, an SD-WAN may be deployed without complex or proprietary hardware via multiple zero-touch provisioning approaches. And new sites can be completed and fully automated extremely quickly.

One of the fundamental characteristics of an SD-WAN, as defined by the Gartner research firm, is its ability to support multiple connection types commonly associated with high-speed cellular networks such as 4G LTE and 5G.

SD-WAN technology is thus ideally positioned to play a vital role in the roll-out of South Africa’s R27 billion plan to expand 4G networks and deploy 5G wireless and fibre-based networks throughout SA. This is in line with government’s vision of connecting 80% of public buildings by 2024, represented by more than 6 600 sites across the country.

In an article featured in BusinessLIVE, 5G is described as fostering “the next generation of mobile networks that will set the foundation for developing various new technologies”.

This begs the question: where will technologies such as SD-WAN that support 5G find welcoming homes?

The author notes that “5G will have a huge impact on global economics. The new technology will facilitate innovations in multiple industries, from transport to healthcare to entertainment.”

This begs the question: where will technologies such as SD-WAN that support 5G find welcoming homes?

There are any number of business-critical challenges SD-WAN will doubtless address as organisations move ever-rapidly to convert their conventional network edge infrastructures and employ technologies such as secure access service edge (SASE) within increasingly distributed networks.

SASE plays a role in converging SD-WAN with other network and security services to create a holistic WAN connectivity and security fabric.

The most appropriate applications which will be addressed by a SASE/SD-WAN partnership will be those associated with the banks’ ATM networks and active point-of-sale locations. SD-WAN will also support myriad voice-over-IP solutions.

As the advance of the digital transformation cause and cloud adoption gains added momentum, SD-WAN technology will also form a platform on which real-time artificial intelligence will be able to operate across a variety of customer channels and touchpoints.

In this light, the 5G rollout in SA will place an emphasis on networking reliability.

To achieve the goal of a reliable core network architecture, SD-WAN technology will ideally integrate with network functions virtualisation (NFV) to support more flexibility, particularly in terms of management options, that will be required as 5G networks expand and mature over time.

NFV refers to the process of running network functions in virtualised IT infrastructures. According to reports, several global telecom service providers are currently benefiting from the integration of SD-WAN and NFV technologies as together they enable a faster introduction of new network services.

If “reliability” is the watchword when it comes to new 5G networks and the services they support, is there a clear definition allied to it?

From a technical perspective, reliability is generally recognised as “nonstop availability” without any network or service disruption and is facilitated by wired-to-wireless “failover”. This is, effectively, the seamless switch from one type of link to another should a service interruption or infrastructure failure occur.

Taking this into account, 4G LTE and 5G connections can use SD-WAN policies in order to identify critical data traffic and prioritise it for transport over the wireless link should the wired link fail for any reason.

Note that Gigabit-class LTE and 5G connections are able to support much higher bandwidth and as such should be able to failover all traffic.

Extrapolating on this thought, 5G and SD-WAN may well mature into an alternative connectivity option that offers high speeds and low latency to remote geographic areas and work-from-home employees (and the hybrid workforce) who may be handicapped by limited connectivity options.

Digging deeper into the technical lexicon, it’s clear that SD-WAN technology is central to per-packet load-sharing which will, in turn, optimise session performance over multiple links.

The technology also facilitates per-packet cloning, which allows the same data packet to be sent over multiple links to ensure accurate delivery. Similarly, multiple SIM card slots are generally provided within the application’s ambit to boost reliability and throughput.

Furthermore, “single-pane-of-glass” management functions associated with SD-WAN implementations on 4G LTE and 5G platforms ensure all data transport media are optimised in terms of throughput, either in the cloud, on-premises or via a hybrid cloud system.

Constant analytics will be the norm to help improve the speed at which data is transmitted and ensure the reliability of a latency-free network.

Finally, these applications should also add finishing touches in the form of geo-location services as well as quality of service and application filtering to ensure best performance for critical applications in backup mode.

Paul Stuttard

Director, Duxbury Networking.

Paul Stuttard is a director of specialist distributor Duxbury Networking. Currently Cape-based, he has been with the company for 29 years and has extensive experience in the IT industry, particularly within the value-added distribution arena. His focus is on the formulation of future-oriented network optimisation strategies and business development objectives in collaboration with resellers and end-users in Southern Africa.

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