From ugly duckling to swan: The metamorphosis of WAN to SD-WAN
The software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is coming to the rescue of network managers by helping them to easily manage their network in disparate locations - from urban to rural - through a single interface.
Best of all, the technology runs in the cloud as a software as a service (SAAS), which is of benefit to both organisation and users, as it perfectly prioritises critical business cloud-based applications while dramatically reducing the cost and workload of corporate IT.
"Once again the Internet is being used to address IT challenges and, very soon, life before SD-WAN will seem incomprehensible," says Marc van der Poll, network and solutions architect at Datacentrix, a provider of high performing and secure ICT solutions. "SD-WAN has certainly become mainstream this year," he exclaims.
Gartner estimates that revenue from SD-WAN vendors is growing at 59 percent annually and it's expected to become a USD1.3 billion market by 2020.
"SD-WAN is secure, reliable and quick," continues Van der Poll. "A further advantage of SD-WAN is the potential to provide visibility and the ability to manage Azure and AWS, and other cloud providers, as nodes on your network through the same console, with the resulting benefits."
Indeed, SD-WAN has the potential to offer faster application performance, better network agility and greater cost efficiency. This is enabled by adding multiple broadband access suppliers to existing MPLS and reducing, or replacing MPLS providers.
"IT budgets are under massive pressure and the very real and big saving potential of SD-WAN is boosting the technology's adoption," notes Van der Poll.
What makes the current WAN both costly and intricate to manage is its complex infrastructure; that is, the routers, WAN path controllers and optimisers, firewalls as well as a host other IT constituents run by an organisation's branch offices. "Just think of retailers and financial institutions that have a number of branch offices both within our borders and beyond. Now imagine being able to manage issues that come up, shape the bandwidth, configure or boost the network from a central interface, deploy new applications faster, all while reducing costs - that's SD-WAN," says Van der Poll.
As Gartner analyst Andrew Lerner says: "SD-WAN has basically lobotomised traditional branch routers. Most enterprises just need a small subset of functionality. SD-WAN vendors package up the four or five most important features - path selection, low cost - and bundle it together. It's a smart car compared to an SUV."
Van der Poll highlights that cost savings between 60% and 90% can be achieved by an SD-WAN implementation. "Also of significance is the rise of applications in the cloud. With SD-WAN these often business critical apps run much faster, making the business case for customers considering an SD-WAN pretty straightforward," adds Van der Poll.
In its Market Guide for Software-Defined WAN, Gartner states that SD-WAN has four characteristics: it must support multiple connection types, such as MPLS, Internet, LTE and more; can do dynamic path selection, that is it allows for load sharing across WAN connections; provides a simple interface for managing WAN - it must support zero-touch provisioning at a branch and should be as easy to set up as a home WiFi router; and must support VPNs as well as other third-party services, such as WAN optimisation controllers, firewalls, Web gateways and more.
"It all sounds as good as it is," says Van der Poll. "When it comes to selecting the right SD-WAN for you, pedigree is important. Has it just been brought in or matured, for example? Also, look at the entire solution - is it right for your business or does it need to be tweaked."
He recommends the following three traits to look out for when buying into an SD-WAN:
1. Ease of deployment - it should be zero-touch deployment for the branch devices and not require a specialist skill, but rather someone internally with the basic understanding to install.
2. A single dashboard for easy administration by head office IT professionals, resulting in minimum to no effort by branch technicians.
3. An automated control plane to actively and intelligently manage and route network traffic according to business priorities.
Van der Poll concludes that in accordance with best company practices, the SD-WAN solution should also follow a business policy framework, including cost measures, primary applications, the user experience, security and, of course, quality of service.