The business world has never been so connected. Multi-national organisations have offices all over the world, with staff interfacing via all manner of digital media, from video conference through to virtual reality goggles. These tools have helped businesses achieve unprecedented levels of collaboration, productivity and efficiency – but nowadays they are so embedded critical to employees’ ability to work that it seems businesses can no longer function without them. According to Gartner, the cost of network downtime hovers around £4,600 per minute.
Which is why CIOs are not just looking for applications to support better ways of working – they are also looking for solutions to ensure their availability, solutions such as Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN), an intelligent, software-powered method of managing traffic within a Wide Area Network. Using SD-WAN technology, IT teams can set high-level network-wide policies for applications and sit back and watch as it manages the routing automatically.
So it is not a surprise that IDC research predicts that the market for SD-WAN technology will rise at 30.8 per cent compound annual growth rate between 2018 and 2023, to eventually reach a value of $5.25 billion. Ultimately, SD-WAN is a more simplified alternative to mapping applications to networks manually based on thresholds. It is also a much more effective alternative, as it helps companies optimise their bandwidth and ensure outstanding quality for their users.
Directing traffic intelligently
As mentioned, employees today are well-equipped with workplace tech tools to help them complete a wide variety of tasks, from voice dictation right through to live broadcasting and video conferencing. While this offers a dynamic work environment, it also places a considerable amount of pressure on the network, which is required to juggle a multitude of different applications with different demands.
SD-WAN presents a solution to this challenge by allowing several different network services – including MPLS, wired internet broadband DSL, leased lines, and cellular internet services – to be deployed simultaneously. These services can be mixed and matched depending on requirements, on a site-to-site basis, or even a site-to-cloud basis. What’s more, more advanced SD-WAN solutions are capable of determining the optimum routing combinations to maximise bandwidth and minimise congestion. For example, SD-WAN can isolate one slice of the network to focus on ultra-low latency applications (like video streaming), while running less time-sensitive applications across other paths. It can even instruct the entire bandwidth to focus on one application if required.
This functionality is powered by continuous analysis combined with predictive capabilities, which also allows SD-WAN to respond to any network problems as they occur. Using this real-time data feed, the technology can detect issues and adjust traffic automatically in less than a second, ensuring availability is preserved no matter what challenges arise.
Guaranteeing security across the entire network
The ability to manage the entire Wide Area Network centrally allows IT teams to control network policies across the board. The ability to enable an intelligent security perimeter with SD-WAN also enables the secure connection and management of remote devices. This is all the more valuable as networks continue to expand across geographies, compliance becomes trickier to maintain, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices continue to be used with increasing frequency. It is also essential in light of workplace trends like mobile working, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the gig economy, which make security even more difficult to regulate.
Higher Quality of Experience
Perhaps the most important benefit of advanced SD-WAN solutions, however, is the higher Quality of Experience (QoE) they offer the end-user. In simple terms, next-generation SD-WAN are self-driving, self-healing solutions that can make decisions to deliver traffic over the network in the best possible way for the current network configuration, rather than simply the method that is most expensive or usually works best. It takes the pressure off network administrators, as they are confident the SD-WAN will deliver the traffic to its destination reliably and with a high QoE on its own. One example is that intelligent SD-WAN solutions can automatically prioritise delay and loss-sensitive traffic such as video streaming.
The business world today has been enriched by a plethora of next generation applications, from cloud computing, to virtual and augmented reality. Consumers and employees alike have become accustomed to, and indeed rely on, the enhanced functionality that these applications afford. This means companies can’t be satisfied simply by implementing the latest technology – they also need to ensure that the end user has reliable access to it. Ultimately, SD-WAN has huge potential to help businesses adapt to the changing environment created by the growth of digital, cloud-based applications. And that’s exactly why so many CIOs are lining up to implement SD-WAN in their businesses, to ensure that their workforce is able to benefit from technology when they need it the most, whenever and wherever that may be.
Andy Gottlieb, VP of SD-WAN, Oracle Communications