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Network transformation: a critical success factor for digital transformation

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flex)

Digital transformation has many facets including cloud adoption (encompassing IAAS, PAAS and SAAS), use of analytics for gaining insights, artificial intelligence for prediction, and the latest being user interface technologies for better customer experience, and digitisation of business processes for improved efficiency. We also have “things” from the IoT world playing a critical part in the digitised world. The list goes on but one thing that these have in common is the increased traffic the drive on the network with varying QoS requirements and also complex network architectures. While the challenges are on both LANs and WANs, WANs are more affected on all of these challenges.

High volume traffic: Most data is stored in the cloud and applications run off the cloud, but most of the data origination and application consumption happens at the edge and the volume of traffic has grown exponentially. Since many of these networks carry sensitive information, the data has to be transported over a corporate network and not over free internet, therefore putting immense pressure on the WAN.

Varied latency and reliability: Real time analytics, unified communication (UC) applications and ERP applications mandate latencies in decreasing order respectively. UC may not need super high packet reliability but the other two do need it. This spectrum widens as we add more use cases or application scenarios. This also leads to the challenge of configuring and architecting the network optimally.

Complex but yet agile: As enterprises expand globally and connect to multiple cloud instances across regions the WANs have become incredibly complex and therefore tough to configure and manage. The frequent movements of workload and change in site locations add another dimension to the complexity which is bewildering the best of the network administrators.

Security threats: With data being so valuable in today’s digital world, it is also the resource which is most sought after. This makes the networks through which data flows prime target for hacking.

Next-gen WAN

Operational Ease: One of the key features of SD-WAN is to be able to centrally manage the entire network using a cloud hosted application like Cisco’s vManage. This enables easy configuration of the end points based on the needs like the capacity and QoS parameters. SD-WAN is also very amenable to automation as most the network itself is software defined which eases the overall operational complexity. These also avoid dependency on visits by personnel which is even more critical in far flung areas – a very critical aspect for segments like banking and retail. This is also key as the lines between the IT and OT world are blurring and the overlap functionality served by IoT, mobile devices and traditional components is increasing.

While the next generation WAN’s have to overcome all these challenges, there is also the additional pressure of optimising the cost of operating these WANs. The cost pressures both come from what gets paid for the bandwidth as well as the operating costs for monitoring, management and maintenance.

The advent of SD-WAN with its rich features and architecture has not only ensured that all these challenges are elegantly overcome, but also guarantees tremendous business value is delivered. It is to be noted that a combination of these features are at play to deliver these business values.

Optimal application performance: SD-WAN supports intelligent traffic forwarding and multi-link, multi path features using which the traffic can be forwarded on the appropriate link based on the QoS requirements of each SAAS application like latency, reliability and throughput. The same holds good even for large database management systems or analytics heavy applications. This ensures seamless user experience as the application performance is not degraded due to network issues.

Always On: Transport independence, centralised service automation and multi-link, multi path come together to deliver this in today’s 24x7x365 world where even five nine availability is sometime not sufficient. SD-WAN can create a WAN independent of the transport like LTE, PON etc and can also route the traffic across differ links easily using automated systems. This ensures that there is quick and loss less failovers when there is a link that goes down.

High security

Optimal cost: SD-WAN’s ability to seamlessly create a WAN using traditional VPN technologies like MLPS or the internet or a combination of these two over different link and transport options enables the network operators to design routing policies with cost also in mind. The low priority traffic can go over the low cost internet while the high priority traffic can be routed over the more expensive VPNs. SD-WAN also enables independence from the service provider providing the links thus preventing lock-ins as well as getting the optimal pricing for the enterprise. The other key lever for cost optimisation is anchored in the central management feature which avoids truck rolls into different branch offices which is one of the most expensive parts of network management and maintenance. Even though digital transformation drives exponentially higher traffic, SD-WANs can ensure that the enterprises don’t pay significantly more.

High Security: Security in SD-WANs has been incorporated from the ground up and not as an afterthought. Integrated firewall, IPS and URL filtering are hygiene factors in solutions today. Added to that many SD-WAN solutions also come with built in cloud security. To top this, all external software security appliances can be integrated to provide the best in class security for all the data that flows through the WAN.

According to IDC, the SD-WAN market is growing a staggering 30+ per cent CAGR over the next few years which is not surprising at all given the business value it delivers as it alleviates all the challenges that are posed by our world which is rapidly transforming into a digital one. It is also not surprising that Cisco which is a bell weather in the networking industry having a dominant market share – these are sure signs that this technology is here to stay and enable a better, faster, more secure and optimal digital world for all.

Jayanth Krishna, General Manager, Hitech & Media, Mindtree