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Definitive networking, by software

This is the deep dive into why any organisation should care about SD-WAN.
Read time 6min 50sec
Priashan Pakiriy
Priashan Pakiriy

Software-defined networking (SD-WAN) underwent some fairly interesting changes in 2020. HPE acquired SD-WAN market leader Silver Peak, CloudGenix was bought by Palo Alto Networks, Juniper Networks bought 128 Technology, VMware acquired Nyansa, and Ericsson trundled off with Cradlepoint. Secure access service edge (SASE) technology continued down its own evolutionary path, a development that has bolstered the potential and capability of SD-WAN significantly. The two combine to create a far more agile and secure solution to the business that’s juggling remote working and an increasingly globalised workforce. In fact, a recent Forrester analysis pointed out that SD-WAN is the remote office in a box, but only if the investment into the technology is not a plug and play affair, but rather a long-term focus on skills, process, metrics and procedures that leverages automation and orchestrated service-chaining.

The Forrester analysis highlights the fact that many SD-WAN solutions are just a repackaging and repurposing of ‘routing and some WAN opt capabilities’ and not a true reinvention of networking in a software-defined world. This could perhaps be why, in the recent Brainstorm 2020 CIO Survey, only 21% of CIOs believe that network infrastructure and SD-WAN are worthy of a budget-increasing tech investment – a significant drop from the 67% in 2019. It’s a drop that indicates a lack of SD-WAN prioritisation for tech decision-makers in a market that’s defined by remote working and the growing need for robust remote office solutions – of which SD-WAN is most definitely one.

The use of cloud-based software and services has skyrocketed during these pandemic times.

Ehimare Aire, Altron Nexus

This begs two questions – has the South African market opted out of SD-WAN because it intrinsically believes that working will return to the ‘old ways’ once the pandemic is over? Or perhaps is it the more mundane and harsh reality that the pandemic itself has drastically sliced expenditure across the board and SD-WAN is just one of the victims?

Complexities

For Helen Kruger, CEO of Troye, and Hannes Lategan, BU lead, AI Ops and Automation, CA Southern Africa, the pandemic is the most likely culprit. Networks and investments are changing to adapt to changing Covid-19 conditions. However, the reasoning could be far deeper than that. Itcould be that SD-WAN is perceived as complex and difficult to integrate, makingit challenging to implement and gain user buy-in. This is a view shared by Lateganand Gudani Luvhani, executive member of Sonke Telecommunications – SD-WAN is taintedby the complexities of WAN by default when, in fact, it can be easy to deployand allows for measurable improvements in connectivity, security andreliability. It isn’t, however, a trend that Jacques Visser, head of Wirelessat Vox, and Colenso van Wyk, director of Consulting Engineering, IP Routing forAfrica at Nokia agree with. For Visser, the survey is only reallyrepresentative of the enterprise and isn’t taking the broader market intoconsideration, while Van Wyk has seen the complete opposite – a significantincrease in the validation of SD-WAN services and use cases.

Even prior to Covid-19, SD-WAN was one of the fastest-growing segments in the network infrastructure market.

Jacques Visser, Vox

The impacts and influences of the South African market and the local handling of the pandemic have very likely shifted decision-maker approaches to SD-WAN investment in 2021. But it is equally likely that SD-WAN will regain its footing in the country as it continues to offer a trusted platform for the connection and collaboration of a growing remote workforce and, as Forrester found in its 2019 report, ‘SD-WAN — More than just cutting WAN costs’, it’s about slashing networking costs, while offering measurable benefits to business operations and infrastructure.

Q&A


Brainstorm: What can SD-WAN do today that the business really needs in light of the pandemic, WFH and digital transformation?

Colenso van Wyk, director of Consulting Engineering, IP Routing for Africa, Nokia: The percentage of remote home workers or teleworkers has increased dramatically over the last five years, and continues to rise. Managed SD-WAN services are ideally positioned to address these new requirements by extending their SD-WAN service to the home and providing the same centralised policy control and management that an enterprise branch typically receives. By doing this, the enterprise will be able to provide the same level of visibility and control to the home, allowing them to define application, security and routing policies from the same infrastructure and platform that they already have in place.

Ehimare Aire, executive: sales and acting CTO, Altron Nexus: The use of cloud-based software and services has skyrocketed during these pandemic times – just think of how much more virtual meetings are happening today as an example. Enterprise connectivity needs to be intelligent enough to steer these calls appropriately and adjust to the daily changes in volumes and quality of service.

Jacques Visser, head of Wireless, Vox: Even prior to Covid-19, SD-WAN was one of the fastest-growing segments in the network infrastructure market. The inability of traditional WANs to support modern business, Software-as-a-Service and hybrid cloud usage, and the need to simplify network management regardless of connection type meant that companies around the world started making the transition.

Hannes Lategan, BU lead, AI Ops and Automation, CA Southern Africa: A software-defined approach to wide area networks makes it highly agile in that it provides for a controller based, highly secure environment that can dynamically adapt to changing conditions while still complying with service level agreement obligations and conforming to security compliance policies, policy-based operations, and orchestration management.

Brainstorm: How can the business fully leverage the benefits of SD-WAN?

Colenso van Wyk, Nokia: Enterprises considering SD-WAN should be thinking beyond branch connectivity and pure bandwidth cost savings. They need to rethink the function of the network for their business and adopt a universal network fabric that connects employees regardless of location to their business applications.

Willie Oosthuysen, chief business officer, Liquid Telecom South Africa. Considering a single service provider for SD-WAN and having the same management privileges with the service provider ensures accountability and allows businesses to focus on their core services. Outsourcing the IT operations and single point of contact is key in adopting SD-WAN services.

Helen Kruger, CEO, Troye: Customers can use a mix of connection types such as MPLS, broadband, satellite et al, allowing them to route certain types of traffic over the most cost-effective and best-performing links. This also removes the requirement for expensive routing equipment and the over-provisioning of network resources.

Brainstorm: Is SD-WAN sustainable and futureproof?

Ehimare Aire, Altron Nexus: The terminologies and specifics may change over time, but the concept of building an intelligent and resilient connectivity overlay using various underlying networks is here for the long haul. Its inherent centralised software-centric nature provides the flexibility and upgradeability needed for the increasingly business-critical use of data. Efforts towards standardisation may also lead to further longer-term sustainability.

Gudani Luvhani, executive member, Sonke Telecommunications: With businesses needing to cut costs, SD-WAN has lower maintenance costs, and centralised control means it offers better security features. Automation removes reliability on technicians that have to follow policies and procedures for required changes; this means less reliance on individuals being diligent with network tasks.

Jacques Visser, Vox: SD-WAN represents the new landscape of networking that is required to future-proof business infrastructure. Remote working has exacerbated the growth of network traffic across a multi-device (and multi-cloud) system. Companies require centralised management and built-in automation to simply the increased complexity of evolving workflows.

Helen Kruger, Troye: Hybrid and multicloud are increasingly becoming the norm. SD-WAN now allows you to plug in your cloud locations as branch or datacentre extensions to your network.

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