SD-WAN – become the master of your network

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He-Man may have been a master of the universe, but us mere mortals may have to set our goals slightly lower. For many network managers, the network is their own mini universe, but much to their dismay, they often don’t have the control or visibility over it that they would like.

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) has been identified by some as the solution to this problem, solving businesses’ digital transformation and legacy infrastructure woes. But it is important that this, like any hyped B2B technology, does not attempt to be a silver bullet solution to these complex issues. Prince Adam used the “Power of Grayskull” to transform into He-Man, but sadly the business world is a bit more nuanced.

For me, SD-WAN is really about the agility and flexibility that application level control of the network enables. Today’s IT managers demand control and visibility for good reason. With many businesses embarking on digital transformation strategies, it is crucial to have real-time actionable insight into network performance, and the adaptability to support the future demands that users will place on the network. Without this, poor performance or even outages could arise and you risk losing the customer loyalty that you’ve worked so hard to build up.

The race towards digital transformation

He-man was known for his great speed and strength, but he would defend with his intellect and strategy. Businesses across all sectors are committing to fast-developing digital strategies to enable a more engaging and positive customer experience, but need to support these broad objectives with the finer details that will enable them to achieve long term success.

Perhaps the most crucial of all these details is the network. In the case of many network managers, legacy technology is what’s holding back their organisation from their digital transformation goals. Yes, a lack of skills and a resistance to change at board level can also lead to a digital transformation roadblock, but so many businesses are embarking on bold digital strategies with a network that just isn’t fit for the modern day.

Connecting your application “islands”

By simply embarking on a digital strategy without the right network to support it, you are essentially building intelligent “islands” that communicate with each other in a very rudimentary manner. To work towards real success in digital transformation, the network must be a central component of the whole process, not just an afterthought. By replacing legacy equipment and improving your mastery of the network with next-generation technologies such as SD-WAN can help businesses work towards and achieve their digital strategy goals.

At the most basic level, digital transformation can create an entirely new set of applications for the network to deal with. If the network cannot differentiate between those services, then your business is essentially being held back by part of your infrastructure. Deploying application-centric networking such as SD-WAN allows you to, in effect, tune your network, this will allow the priority traffic to behave the way it needs to.

Master of the universe (or maybe just your network…)

A myriad of IT managers want more control and visibility over their networks, and this shouldn’t be a big ask. Currently this visibility often solely extends to a report at the end of the month detailing how much bandwidth you have used, or what applications have been used the most. However, this is retrospective and doesn’t give enough insight to allow you to tune your network as you go. Next-generation WAN enables reporting that tracks and analyses end-to-end application performance in real time, so the network can quickly react to any changes.

Customer complaints about slow application performance are a major and frequent problem, which means that major network improvements must be made if businesses want to improve the experience for the customer. SD-WAN works in conjunction with next-generation applications to help them operate properly, so that the business receives the full benefit of adopting those applications in the first place.

The power of a software-defined future

It’s also becoming increasingly clear that the early adopters of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will dominate the business landscape in years to come. However, there are also intriguing use cases for processing the masses of data points produced across the network and made visible through the analytics engines that many SD-WAN solutions have inbuilt.

As a result of the application visibility and analytics capabilities of SD-WAN, some businesses are now collecting millions of pieces of information from every part of the network. When harnessed and analysed correctly, this information is invaluable to network managers when it comes to understanding the impact of new services, and monitoring the usage and performance of applications, allowing greater insight and leading the way to future automation.

Galactic Guardians: The importance of a trusted partner

A common catalyst for implementing SD-WAN is a desire to cut costs within the business. However, to view it simply as a money saving exercise is to miss the point slightly. We find that businesses that are becoming increasingly application-centric are successfully embracing SD-WAN because of the control and flexibility it gives their network.

But the transition can’t be done alone. If you are migrating existing services and existing networks from an existing service to an SD-WAN service, this requires a lot of project management and consultancy to make it a success. As part of the process, it is highly important to properly plan out what you want from it as a business, and track this with sensible metrics. A slightly inferior solution, implemented properly, will be better for you as a business than a technically superior solution implemented poorly. Therefore, selecting the right partner is all-important.

When it is deployed correctly and for the right reasons, SD-WAN can be your guide towards digital transformation, and in the shorter term, control over your network. However, with great power comes great responsibility; you must use it wisely! And watch out for Skeletor...

Chris Gilmour, Technical Practice Lead, Axians
Image Credit: Billion Photos / Shutterstock