Carefully implemented, even in complex “brownfield” IT landscapes, the latest SD-WAN implementations are starting to give CIOs new levels of network control and agility in addition to boosting the bottom line for performance and bringing order to network maintenance, support and travel budgets. SD-WAN tools provide the opportunity, as Gartner puts it, for IT teams to align IT infrastructures with the businesses they serve. But behind all the excitement and rhetoric surrounding SD-WAN, what can CIOs reasonably expect from an SD-WAN implementation?
Through smarter routing and bonding, SD-WAN is creating new opportunities to address business continuity and network resilience more cost effectively. The rise of SD-WAN promises CIOs better control over scattered networks, sites and applications. Layered over companies’ existing connectivity solutions, SD-WAN tools involve applications and data being abstracted from the underlying infrastructures. As a result, global network performance can be controlled, fine-tuned and automated from a central point. Using SD-WAN, networking teams can use cheaper links, increase application availability and boost business-unit productivity, accelerating the setup of new locations and reducing the ongoing need for on-site maintenance.
SD-WAN also provides opportunities to assess and resolve critical applications’ connectivity issues. Specifically, as companies use and add to different WANs—from MPLS and broadband to 4G and public Wi-Fi—and as they expand operations, many face poor branch-application performance, connectivity issues and rising network-maintenance costs. Central control promises transformation of local-branch capabilities. In particular, SD-WAN helps network managers to make smarter decisions about the routes data will take over the network, depending on business priorities for different applications.
Enterprises can build in greater bandwidth for local offices or set up failover rules so traffic automatically switches to the next best route, avoiding downtime.
The business advantages and benefits of SD-WAN are in making companies more agile. Although MPLS generally requires the customer to operate expensive edge hardware, usually to a carrier’s term contract, SD-WAN flips the cost model to suit the service user, offering a low-cost commodity item that provides the intelligence or orchestration capabilities at the overlay level. It’s turning previous hybrid-network cost equations on their head: a U.S.-based analyst recently estimated that a traditional-model 250-branch WAN’s three-year running costs of $1,285,000 could drop to $452,500 through an SD-WAN deployment.
Employees who may have been hindered by high latency, slow database access and choppy video will find themselves able to achieve more each day as their computing experience gets better. SD-WAN is improving end-user performance, leading to better productivity because it abstracts a control layer from the existing physical networks and components. Doing so enables CIOs to leverage network investments and cloud applications and to improve local application-performance visibility, all from a central point of control.
For example, one pharmaceutical firm implemented SD-WAN to route data more intelligently over its WAN. It had been plagued by variable bandwidth worldwide, which was adversely affecting its online training facility. With SD-WAN, the company removed jitter from its VoIP and video applications, no longer experienced dropped packets, and gained a 25 percent network-efficiency uplift. In addition, a global law firm has used SD-WAN to remove latency from business-critical video and case-management applications and achieved more-effective thin-client computing worldwide, thereby optimizing casework billing.
As you may have noticed, agility is a common theme and often a driver when companies are looking at SD-WAN. But it’s about more than just the technology: it’s also about the integrator and managed-services provider you’re working with. Given the challenges IT faces regularly—shrinking teams and big projects requiring implementation and management—SD-WAN agility also correlates to a company’s ability to get things running quickly and smoothly so it can reap the benefits.
Thus, despite all the promise, CIOs should gain an understanding of the control they need for the technology selection and design, delivery, implementation, and ongoing management before starting an SD-WAN project. SD-WAN’s marketing has been such over the past couple of years that the concept of “zero touch” has made CIOs think it’s much simpler to implement than it actually is. Internally, we use the “pacemaker” anecdote: a pacemaker will solve your problem once it’s in place, but you really need an expert to install it.
About the Author
Marc Sollars is chief technology officer for Teneo. He is also chief evangelist and a company director. In his role as CTO, Marc has a passion for identifying next-generation technologies that are early to market and can be integrated into Teneo’s services portfolio. He also enjoys introducing them to the company’s global customers. You can follow Marc on Twitter @MarcatTeneo.