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Pressing history’s fast-forward button

SD-WAN is one of the fast-emerging technologies set to play an important role in establishing a new paradigm for value creation in the digital age.
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Like the great depression of the 1930s and the 2008 global financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered as an event that restructured the world order. It will be seen as the catalyst for social and economic changes that may have taken far longer to materialise.

In overcoming the unexpected veracities of travel restrictions and social distancing during the extended periods of lockdown, businesses have had to operate online with management and staff performing many key functions from home.

In order to keep the wheels of business turning, organisations have had to rely even more on cloud-based applications and collaboration tools such as Skype, WhatsApp, Google Keep, GotoMeeting and many others.

As a result, organisations have come face-to-face with the realities of digital business – e-commerce – and the challenges of the emerging digital economy. They are no longer theoretical concepts but increasingly part of “the new normal”.

The restrictive measures applied during the pandemic and the “workarounds” innovated by businesses have given IT professionals a clear pointer to the future and compelled them to arrive there far sooner than expected.

One of the fast-emerging technologies set to play an important role in establishing a new paradigm for value creation in the digital age is software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN).

SD-WAN technology is one of the keys to innovation in the post-pandemic age.

SD-WAN technology is also one of the keys to innovation in the post-pandemic age. In addition to transforming corporate networks, SD-WAN technology will assist business leaders to develop new frameworks for future strategic planning.

In an earlier Industry Insight, I said “looking ahead, we see significantly more powerful, responsive, efficient and intelligent IT networks on the horizon". Their time has arrived, as organisations increasingly look to new network solutions to support their disparate corporate entities and remote workers.

John Burke, principal analyst with Nemertes Research in the US, sees a decisive shift towards new “outside-faced WANs powered by SD-WAN technology and cloud networking solutions”. He says this is driven by ongoing moves from internal solutions to external, and from internal (on-premises) users to external. “The pandemic is throwing a spotlight on the need to accommodate these shifts and will accelerate adoption in the coming year,” he notes.

In this light, the implementation of technologies such as SD-WAN will now fast-track at warp speed as enterprises – particularly those operating in the technology, telecommunications, telecommuting, telemedicine/healthcare, news media, publishing, banking, retail, on-demand food services and many other sectors – move to execute new cloud-based business strategies encouraged by insistent demands associated with the new normal.

Concurrently, the need for added security and more advanced automation techniques within evolving networks will be emphasised. These are two areas in which “true” (sophisticated) SD-WANs will play important roles going forward.

For example, the latest iterations of SD-WAN technology now combine multi-layered security technologies within a single unit facilitating integration and interoperability with a growing number of leading enterprise/cloud security platforms. This allows network-wide security policies and local, third-party and cloud-based security services to be applied as and when required.

In addition, SD-WAN technology is now able to integrate service assurance with analytics to facilitate closed-loop automation. By continuously assessing real-time network conditions, traffic demands and resource availability – based on a variety of sources such as telemetry data derived from network device streaming and application flows – the best placement of traffic for optimal service quality and resource utilisation is determined.

SD-WAN technology is therefore able to contribute to the automated management and control of network services across multiple network domains while managing underlay and overlay networks and expediting the remediation of network issues.

Flexibility is also a key SD-WAN attribute. For instance, SD-WAN solutions are able to address challenges faced by organisations with multiple locations and disparate legacy systems by allowing individual sites to add new applications and services without having to undertake a costly and time-consuming full systems replacement.

Looking ahead, the proliferation of remotely stored data in the cloud – and organisations’ reliance on it – will mushroom at a rate far greater than previously forecast. This will open a host of opportunities for new-generation SD-WAN solutions and related applications.

These solutions will support disruptive technologies such as the Internet of things and 5G, which themselves underpin a range of technologies integral to the new normal – including artificial intelligence (AI) – which are likely to change the way organisations and their employees conduct business and interact with customers.

In future, AI-infused SD-WANs are certain to provide both the quality of service and cost-efficiency advantages demanded by organisations looking to invest in the smart applications destined to characterise the new normal.

Unfortunately, the rapid arrival of the new normal has introduced a degree of uncertainty into the marketplace. Nevertheless, there is no need to delay the important transformation to the latest digital business strategies and platforms.

If caution is needed it is in the purchasing process. There are increasing numbers of SD-WAN solutions on the market, each with a variety of features on offer. Selecting a suitable option, backed by appropriate levels of expertise and support, is now obligatory.

When the COVID-19 pandemic is only a distant memory, we’ll recall the technology that assisted businesses to turn so expeditiously to digital technology and venture so boldly into the world of e-commerce.

As the historian and best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari notes, “pandemics press history’s fast-forward button”. Never has there been a more exciting time to be part of the digital economy.

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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