With so many user applications, devices and machines connecting to the cloud and corporate data centers, ever increasing amounts of data are being consumed and analyzed by corporations, utilities and government agencies to gain business insight.
Social-media feeds and digital points of sales continuously collect data from consumer responses and crowd sentiment. This data gives retailers and others greater insights into customer behavior to help them to sell smarter. Companies resourceful enough to use this data to attract new customers and improve customer relationships are reaping huge competitive advantages. For this coveted data to be available, however, the distributed networks that deliver it must be agile, reliable and cost efficient.
The massive amounts of compute power being used to solve large problems couldn’t exist without virtual technologies, cloud computing and software-defined networking (SDN). These three technologies have converged to make big data available to practically any company. The confluence of virtual technologies, the cloud and software-defined WANs (SD-WANs) are revolutionizing the delivery, management and operation of networks and the services running on them.
Virtual and software-driven technologies began in the data center, then expanded to networking devices and are now driving the wide-area networks (WANs) that connect user and machine data to corporate data centers and cloud facilities. SD-WAN is at the forefront of bringing low-cost, reliable connectivity to enterprise IT and the business units that employ business intelligence.
Cloud infrastructures, such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and others, have turned business intelligence on its head, making big data available to organizations, large or small. By taking advantage of the cloud’s economy of scale, almost any company can reduce compute- and connectivity-infrastructure costs across the board as well as enable elastic growth.
Connecting remote users and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to cloud and enterprise data centers, SD-WAN cuts bandwidth costs while delivering reliability, performance and security using commodity broadband networks. Accomplishing this feat involves aggregating links—such as xDSL, cable, broadband mobile, MPLS and others—into a single, virtual WAN that continuously adapts to traffic and network conditions on the basis of the availability and real-time quality of the network paths. This extraordinary network elasticity allows organizations to support more traffic and, as a result, more data, all while ensuring applications run smoothly without being adversely affected by underlying network issues such as congestion, latency, loss and jitter.
SD-WAN decouples network configuration from individual links and hardware components. It has a software-driven virtual network overlay that that removes the complexities of disparate hardware configurations and management, takes advantage of all available links, and centralizes control as well as visibility into the entire SD-WAN fabric.
By changing the way organizations communicate in today’s digitally connected world, SD-WAN plays a vital role in reliably delivering massive amounts of data from mobile users, branch offices, retail stores, manufacturing plants, remote industrial facilities, IoT devices and many other end points. All of this data is delivered to corporate data centers and cloud sites, where it’s analyzed and used to make decisions to help improve business operations.
The demand for SD-WAN will continue to grow as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and IoT devices become business drivers for more applications. By their nature, these technologies rely on reliable, fast and cost-efficient WANs. The applications can be data intensive, and many are mission critical. The data they produce can be crucial to improving business decisions and gaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Whether or not the applications are mission critical, they all compete for the same bandwidth. This is where SD-WAN adds more value: by enabling organizations to target bandwidth utilization for specific applications and even allocating certain links to priority applications on the basis of business priorities.
Years ago, when large enterprises connected branch-office employees to their corporate data centers, they could easily justify the high cost of MPLS and other private circuits. But today, they need greater agility and are looking to simplify operations and reduce costs, as almost everyone and everything is connected by long-distance networks. Even employees in the corporate headquarters are logging into remote servers to access their company’s cloud-hosted applications.
Managing big data becomes a challenge when applying manual policies across many locations and across diverse, individually managed circuits. The more locations and circuits to manage, the more complex and difficult it becomes to apply policies that achieve the necessary performance and reliability.
SD-WAN ameliorates this problem with edge-network devices that continuously forward IP packets, while the central controller/orchestrator makes dynamic policy decisions on how to forward packets on the basis of real-time network conditions. The controller analyzes traffic across multiple circuits and determines the optimal network paths for each application and for individual flows. SD-WAN provides boundless circuit flexibility, so an organization can aggregate several cost-effective broadband Internet links to reduce, and even eliminate, their dependence on expensive and rigid legacy circuits.
Organizations acquire SD-WAN by either buying the edge and controller technology and managing it internally or by working with a service provider that offers SD-WAN as a service (SD-WANaaS). Managed services for SD-WAN can come from a single carrier or from a managed-service provider that offers carrier-neutral circuits integrated with the SD-WAN edge devices and controller. With a carrier neutral SD-WAN service, all the circuits and SD-WAN technology are bundled together and delivered under a single invoice.
Enterprises are using SD-WANs to deploy Internet-only WANs and are using hybrid networks that aggregate MPLS circuits with various broadband links to support big data. SD-WAN enables them to reduce bandwidth costs, improve availability and reliability, and gain network elasticity. Because of the many SD-WAN advantages, it’s becoming more difficult to justify private circuits and harder to compete without the flexibility, low cost and reliability that SD-WAN provides.
About the Author
Matt Hiles is the chief operating officer at Mosaic NetworX. In addition to a successful 20-plus-year career in the telecom and data center industries, he’s also held executive and leadership positions at WorldCom, Level 3 and DCI Technology Holdings. Matt earned a bachelor’s degree in government, U.S./Soviet relations, from Harvard University.