As background, permit me to state the obvious: We live in a world where technology is constantly evolving to deliver novel experiences and theoretically make life easier.
Now, if technology is evolving to make life easier for our customers, SD-WAN is evolving to make life easier for the CIO and the people who run the world’s most complicated networks.
The Top 5 Benefits of SD-WAN
These are the top five benefits of SD-WAN that make life easier for IT:
- Business agility through simplified network management
- Lower costs by optimizing bandwidth and extending capacity with internet or other hybrid connectivity
- Reliability by delivering MPLS-like QoE over multiple transport types and allocating network resources to applications based on their business priority
- Ensure application performance QoE according to business objectives
- Security mechanisms that protect branch networks and automate policies and provisioning across the WAN
From a business perspective, “digital transformation” is a mandate. From an IT perspective, digital transformation translates to an explosion in network traffic.
Vast amounts of data are being created and transferred across data centers, multi-clouds, branch offices and other remote sites. Driving all this data are cloud technologies, mobile devices, multi-clouds, SaaS, IoT, AI, data analytics and all those fun buzz words. And it will only get more extreme as 5G and other new technologies come online.
As data traffic increases, it leads to network conditions that create latency, packet delays and loss, and excessive bandwidth consumption. The result is unreliable network performance, which impacts all applications, particularly apps that are highly sensitive to latency and jitter. Add into the mix the potential for human error with misconfigured routers, unexpected surges in network traffic, and the occasional natural disaster, and you have a recipe for mayhem on the WAN – the ultimate consequence of which is poor application performance, and, ipso facto, bad user experience. Not good for business.
Enter SD-WAN, a panacea for the aforementioned challenges. The idea is that by enabling the aggregation of multiple network transports, creating a pool of bandwidth that can be segmented and allocated selectively and prioritizing specific application traffic. SD-WAN can guarantee application performance and therefore quality user experience, regardless of network conditions that might otherwise jeopardize the quality of experience (QoE). Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that not all solutions deliver on that promise as effectively as others, but more on that in a moment. First, let’s examine the key benefits of SD-WAN as a category.
SD-WAN offers a wide range of important operational and financial benefits, including:
SD-WAN Agility Benefits
SD-WAN lets a business add capacity quickly and easily by augmenting MPLS with alternative types of transport, e.g. DIA, broadband, LTE, 4G, and 5G (when available), that are easily added or removed as needed. While these other forms of transport may deliver inconsistent QoE, the ideal SD-WAN can ensure quality of experience across the hybrid WAN. Bandwidth is available on-demand to save costs, and to ensure appropriate performance for a quality user experience.
SD-WAN makes it easier to bring new applications and new sites online. It also provides contract flexibility, making it easier to change service providers and reduce carrier lock-in by diversifying contracts.
SD-WAN Cost Benefits
Businesses can cost-effectively increase bandwidth, by provisioning wired Internet and wireless networks. Low-cost WAN circuits can replace, or run in parallel with MPLS. SD-WAN provides a single edge device (either virtual or physical) that includes multiple network and security functions that replace single-function devices, to reduce cost and complexity.
SD-WAN Reliability Benefits
MPLS provides reliable packet delivery, while Internet circuits only provide the best effort. SD-WAN makes it possible to combine multiple active/active circuits to provide redundancy in case a circuit fails or becomes congested. Bandwidth from all circuits is intelligently managed, and policy-based traffic management ensures quality application performance.
SD-WAN Performance Benefits
SD-WAN is a hybrid WAN enabler, making it possible to connect users directly to clouds and SaaS, eliminating the need to backhaul traffic through the corporate data center. This avoids traffic bottlenecks and added latency. Ideally, an SD-WAN should prioritize application traffic to support the quality of experience objectives while optimizing data center, SaaS and other cloud services. Zero-touch provisioning improves IT efficiency for branch deployments, by automating provisioning and managing with central orchestration. And IT can, of course, benefit overall from the simplified and centralized management that is the most basic promise of SD-WAN.
SD-WAN Security Benefits
The ideal SD-WAN incorporates security mechanisms that protect branch networks from cyber threats, without requiring additional security devices. VPNs on IPsec or Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE) can be terminated at the appliance to encrypt traffic going over the Internet. Security can then be easily configured to apply local “allows/denies” to web traffic. Flows can be directed through an access tunnel, secured by an external secure web gateway (e.g. Zscaler), or through a cloud hub exchange.
SD-WAN makes business networks more efficient and agile while providing unparalleled visibility across the entire network. Users benefit from a quality application experience. IT benefits from a software-defined overlay that makes it easy to manage their distributed WAN from a single-pane-of-glass interface.
SD-WAN solutions deliver many business benefits, but some deliver more than others!
SD-WAN brings many benefits to both IT and business users. It creates a more agile, more reliable, and higher-performance WAN by enabling the safe use of low-cost Internet circuits, which can replace, or run along-side of, more expensive MPLS circuits. SD-WAN simplifies network management by centralizing control through a single orchestrator, typically accessed through a user friendly portal interface; it reduces the need for manual interventions, thereby streamlining business operations and freeing IT to focus on projects that drive business; it helps reduce and control costs by augmenting network resources with lower cost transport types; it strengthens security by automating policy-based routing across SD-WAN managed branches, and it lets the business optimize resources by allocating bandwidth based on business priority of applications and branches. But again, I must emphasize that some solutions do this better than others.
At Infovista, we believe that the ideal SD-WAN is cloud-delivered, application-aware, and enables a risk-free migration path leveraging hybrid WAN transparency. In simpler terms, a business should be able to drop in a box today that delivers instant application visibility and control, but which is invisible to other devices on the network so there is no need to reconfigure the router estate. Ipanema prioritizes applications according to objectives set by the business, and assigns quality scores to match applications with the proper resources. This is the foundation of “intent-based networking”: guaranteeing all applications meet defined performance thresholds according to business priorities.
SD-WAN deployment isn’t as simple as many vendors claim. When an SD-WAN solution requires replacing the existing branch routers with SD-WAN branch devices, they create two separate networks. IT must rearchitect every branch network, changing IP address schemes, and modifying the way devices are identified within the SD-WAN network. This is an expensive, resource intensive and time-consuming project.
Ipanema SD-WAN has a different architectural approach. When our edge appliance is placed in front of the existing router, it uses the Ipanema SD-WAN ip|engine with proprietary transparent hybrid WAN technology. Rather than creating two separate networks for each branch, Ipanema’s transparency mimics the existing WAN, intercepts the traffic, and makes application-aware traffic decisions. This enables immediate visibility and control in a “hands-free” deployment model, meaning there’s no need to touch the existing infrastructure to get the benefits of a full-featured SD-WAN. It’s the easiest, lowest risk migration path to SD-WAN.