by Ralph Tkatchuk

The rise of SD-WAN: what does it mean for your company?

Jun 06, 2017
E-commerce Software Mobile Small and Medium Business

SD-WAN is a new and cost-effective way of connecting offices and staff across geographic locations. Enterprises that are burdened with the transition from traditional infrastructure to the cloud might want to consider SD-WAN.

abstract connectivity background
Credit: Thinkstock

It’s hard to come by any enterprise that operates offline these days. Enterprise connectivity is now central to any digital workplace strategy. A tech-savvy workforce also demands robust, stable, and fast infrastructure that would enable them to be at their most productive. However, keeping pace with all the changes technology can be a real challenge for enterprises.

Workplaces are also increasingly becoming collaborative. Projects are now utilizing remote teams where members can be geographically distributed all over the world. As such, the infrastructure must be able to accommodate remote access not just but cross-border as well. Mobile enterprise is also on the rise.

Cloud computing has changed enterprise network infrastructure. More businesses are adopting cloud computing resources and services. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has emerged to be a popular choice over internally hosted enterprise applications. IT teams are now scrambling to enable access to enterprise applications through various connections and devices.

Traditionally, enterprises have to build their own data center infrastructure. Remote access to networks is handled through wide area networks (WANs) which use expensive connections such as leased lines or multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). However, these methods are now becoming outdated due to the modern requirements of today’s enterprise.

For instance, MPLS doesn’t work well with cloud or SaaS so companies who would want to use cloud resources have to use public internet alongside MPLS to do so. Cost-wise, it is hard to justify sustaining both options for every branch especially the smaller and more remote offices. Traditional infrastructures also required specialized hardware and appliances such as those provided by the likes of Cisco and F5. Connections are also dependent on the providers available for each location.

According to Shlomo Kramer, the cofounder and CEO of network services provider Cato Networks, “Current enterprise networks are built upon 25 years old networking and security technologies. This aging architecture is incompatible with the cloud-centric and mobile-first modern enterprise.”

“Over the next 10 years organizations of all sizes will need to re-architect their WANs to provide secure networking capabilities across the business, anytime and anywhere. This challenge requires a new architecture, not merely point solutions like existing SD-WAN products. Cato Cloud is the blueprint for transforming the enterprise WAN for the business of the future,” Kramer said.

This is where new connectivity technologies like Software Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) comes in. SD-WAN uses an approach to networking similar approach to how virtualization is used for servers and storage in the cloud. Traffic management is shifted to software instead of physical utilities and appliances. It provides flexibility and scalability. While current adoption of SD-WAN is still low, Gartner expects more enterprises to shift towards this technology and up the usage rate to 30 percent by 2019.

Here are some areas of business where SD-WAN can have a major impact:

Connectivity. Enterprises can use a variety of connections including MPLS, broadband, and 4G LTE to access SD-WAN. If the company needs to open up a new branch, they need not have to procure an MPLS connection for that location. Instead, they can opt for broadband internet access which could be provided in a matter of days bringing the branch online and connected to the rest of the company’s infrastructure quicker.

Security. Security is a top concern for enterprises. One of the limitations of MPLS is that it doesn’t have inherent encryption. While private, some elements of the network may still be shared with other MPLS customers. Companies that deal with classified data should opt for a more secure WAN. SD-WAN providers like Cato Networks now provide other security features such as firewalls, web filters, authentication and virtual private networks to support encryption that are built in to the service. This bundling eliminates the need to accommodate additional security services or appliances to secure the network.

Reliability. Like many legacy technologies, MPLS providers claim that they still hold the advantage in reliability due to their service level agreements (SLA). However, SD-WAN providers now also offer SLA-backed guarantees. By using globally connected points-of-presence, SD-WAN providers can minimize latency in order to provide faster response times especially for globally distributed enterprises. Since SD-WANs can also accommodate various connections, enterprises can easily switch between connections in the event one goes down. With MPLS-exclusive connections, outages typically mean loss of access until they get resolved by the provider.

Flexibility. SD-WAN not only accommodates cloud and SaaS out of the box but it also can be used with traditional network infrastructure. Enterprises transitioning to a hybrid cloud infrastructure need not worry about compatibility issues. Those implementing mobile enterprise would also find it easier to configure the network and connect devices securely.

Cost. While not necessarily cheap, SD-WAN can be more affordable than maintaining expensive MPLS or leased line connections. SD-WAN doesn’t require the purchase of hardware and appliances and the accompanying costs of installing and maintaining equipment.

Essentially, SD-WAN is a new and cost-effective way of connecting offices and staff across geographic locations. Enterprises that are burdened with the transition from traditional infrastructure to the cloud would have an easier time by adopting SD-WAN. New ventures who are still in the process of putting up their infrastructure would surely do well considering SD-WAN to build their network as it allows for more flexibility.