SD-WAN is an industry enabler for greater network operations
Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN), is an application of software-defined networking (SDN) technology which is applied to a WAN architecture. One of the main benefits of SD-WAN, compared to traditional networking technologies is being able to centralise the control plane through a cloud hosted controller. Removing control from the edge devices allows for a more streamlined management of those devices. For network managers, simplifying controls, speed of deployment and agility to new challenges not only allows for cost savings and greater productivity, but helps deliver an overall better user experience, writes Stephen Lawrence, the sector director for enterprise at SSE Enterprise Telecoms.
For many businesses, technologies such as virtual private networks (VPN) can be complicated to look after and slow to deploy. But, thanks to SD-WAN, businesses now have access to a technology which, due to being delivered from a central location, is easier to set up and easier to manage. With deliverance of SD-WAN services coming from this central controller, there is also a notable benefit to security services such as encryption. This type of security rollout can now be deployed more rapidly and in a more reliable and secure way.
The SD-WAN opportunity
Following on from a Gartner prediction of 30% adoption in 2015, the US began pioneering SD-WAN technologies in 2016 and 2017. Global vendors of the technology recognised it was a growing pain and spent their time nurturing the US market and ironing out bugs. This year we’ve seen the US market running to keep up with demand, and focus is now turning to the market opportunity in Europe. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty in the SD-WAN market from a development perspective. This is leaving a pocket of opportunity for smaller players to steal market share in the region.
In today’s cloud-dependent world, Enterprise businesses are becoming accustomed to consumption-based billing models, and not all telecoms providers offer this. However, Enterprise legacy systems are not able to cope, or allow for this. We anticipate SD-WAN resonating well with anyone that needs to collaborate with third parties in a mature IT environment. Lots of companies have the issue of a large inventory, but are unable to address simple policy change. SD-WAN removes that barrier.
For businesses SD-WAN will enable the ability to turn on or ramp up new sites more rapidly and allow an elegant path to migrate away from legacy third party solutions. In the fullness of time, additional services will also be available beyond IP-VPN and managed internet access. These services should be available at a moment’s notice and for much shorter contract terms than are currently offered in the wider market. Imagine an App Store like environment as an industry standard, where you can purchase security & firewalls features at a click of a button.
Businesses will have a robust single source architecture with multiple service capabilities sitting on that platform from disparate best of breed technology providers. The underlying infrastructure may be integrated with the service offerings or the service may be WAN agnostic – for example the services and application layer may be completely discrete from the MPLS or Internet underlay provided by a third party.
The challenge for communications service providers (CSPs) is usability, the assumption is that the technology works but the challenge will be how to tailor the user experience to make it easy. It is the job of the industry to make the SD-WAN buying experience as straightforward as possible. We foresee an App store-like version of an SD-WAN product. With the user interface and mechanisms engineered for optimum usability.
SD-WAN is seen in the industry as an enabler for greater network operations. Bringing together business efficiency and effectiveness. It will see the end of flat networks, allow for policy flexibility and most importantly, easy collaboration with third parties, whilst ensuring security policies and procedures are adhered to.
The primary benefits of SD-WAN can be defined into three central pillars. Firstly, confidentiality; the technology provides greater operational control for network operators, ensuring a more secure network due to encryption. Something which is a critical need for large enterprises that may be transferring highly sensitive data across the network and want to remain GDPR compliant. Secondly performance, SD-WAN provides a better end user experience and application performance, thanks to this technology businesses will be able to deploy a WAN environment which suits both their needs and the needs of their developers and customers. Finally, availability. The increased control of SD-WAN enables a higher bandwidth utilisation. As a result, businesses will be able to achieve a lower expenditure on bandwidth, saving valuable financial resources to be allocated to other areas of the business.