The role of SD WAN in Digital Transformation

SD WAN Digital Transformation

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SD WAN serves as a vital communication facilitator between users and their data which is predominantly hosted in public cloud environments today. The capability of SD WAN to support digital transformation lies in its agility and security features. With cloud-based configuration and updates, SD WAN can be rapidly deployed which ensures that the latest security policies and traffic profiles are consistently delivered across any internet connection.

SD WAN vs. traditional WAN

The traditional WAN is often associated with MPLS. In the past, IT teams chose large telcos to provide private MPLS circuits to connect their HQ and branch-office sites within a private network with application prioritization. MPLS worked effectively before the public cloud emerged - but the Cloud has fundamentally changed how we work forever, whether in the office, at home, or from a cafe.

The issue with MPLS is that it's a private-based WAN technology - to access the Internet, users must break out of a designated site or via the provider's gateway. And then users would access company resources and the Internet via an IPSec tunnel into the MPLS network.

But now our application data is hosted in the cloud, perhaps within MS Azure or AWS. SD WAN enables user access to their cloud resources. It does this by directly connecting Internet circuits across 4G, 5G, broadband, and leased lines. And then the service is managed by a centralized management plane, which allows an IT team to quickly add users, define their security profiles and policies, and then ensure they access the cloud with the best available latency and jitter. Because SD WAN is typically Internet-based, services can be turned up quickly with out-of-the-box security and traffic profiles.

Enhancing Network Performance with SD WAN

Improved bandwidth utilization

As users access the cloud from various locations, potential performance issues may arise depending on the quality of their local ISP connection. While enterprise transformation primarily focuses on supporting remote users, maintaining traffic quality of service is also essential. SD WAN achieves this by supporting multiple connectivity types; for example, if a hotel's broadband connection is poor, traffic can be rerouted over cellular networks. This flexibility ensures optimal performance and uninterrupted access to cloud resources, regardless of a user's location or connection quality.

Reduced latency and packet loss with dynamic path selection

One of the benefits offered by certain vendors and providers is their provision of public and private gateways. For example, Cato offers a private backbone that enables users and branch-office sites to connect to their local PoP. Cato then transports the traffic across their backbone to improve latency and jitter. VeloCloud takes a different approach by using public gateways, each connected to multiple ISPs. Depending on the destination, VeloCloud's SD WAN architecture selects the best possible path, which, again, enhances latency and jitter performance.

Other vendors and provider solutions do not incorporate gateways within their offerings. In this architecture, the SD WAN appliance (or virtualised instance) utilizes the most optimal connected circuit path across the Internet. In some cases, employing private or public gateways may not suit your branch or office locations, so using a solution with direct VPN might be the better option.

Network resiliency and failover capabilities

Resilience and failover are crucial when considering digital transformation, as architecting your solution optimally ensures high availability and improved uptime. With multiple active links, intelligent traffic routing, and dynamic path selection employed, users enjoy excellent productivity, as applications are always up and available. This means the business can continuously serve customers and access their cloud resources. The very core of digital transformation cannot be leveraged without consistent availability.

Integration with cloud services and applications

We've mentioned the capability of SD WAN to intelligently route traffic destined for the cloud across the best possible path, or even multiple paths, depending on each application's destination. The benefits of cloud services are not new to customers, but SD WAN acts as an enabler for consistent user performance – applications should perform consistently regardless of the user's location. Remote access, in many ways, is one of the primary values derived from digital transformation, as it allows for flexible work arrangements.

Cost Reduction and ROI in SD WAN Deployments

Digital transformation is also about making efficiencies, to work more effectively, to access the resources as and when and to open up new capabilities.

SD WAN is often aligned to making cost savings as follows:

Lowered hardware expenses and underlay connectivity

SD WAN appliances derive much of their cost savings from using basic CPE, which is designed for fast data processing and management through a centralized cloud platform. SD WAN is also capable of delivering multiple features in a single hardware device, which can include Next-Generation Firewall capabilities. When comparing SD WAN to MPLS, significant cost reductions can be observed, as more features are bundled into the SD WAN solution along with a lower-cost network underlay.

Streamlined network management

Incomplete adds, moves, and changes due to slow telco processes can result in higher costs for organizations. This is because such changes may be necessary to facilitate the way users work, and taking days to implement a change can have a detrimental impact on productivity.

Additionally, IT teams can quickly enhance network performance by analyzing reports generated by SD WAN capabilities. If an optimization is required, the SD WAN management platform simplifies the process of making these adjustments.

Improved staff productivity

Staff can work and access their cloud apps from wherever they are located, at any time, with optimal performance. Additionally, IT teams can optimize the network and protect users from cybersecurity threats using technologies such as endpoint protection. The reliability of access is also crucial for user productivity, as the best connection is used depending on the destination of the cloud application. From a branch-office perspective, total diversity and resiliency can be achieved by adding a second circuit.

Simplified Network Management and Visibility

Centralized control and orchestration

A single pane of glass is often cited as a benefit of SD WAN, referring to the ability to centrally manage your WAN via a cloud interface. Accessing a single interface offers advantages such as easy adds, moves, and changes, as well as improved troubleshooting through granular statistics and reporting.

Real-time monitoring and analytics are benefits that set SD WAN apart from legacy MPLS solutions, which typically required a third-party application and often provided difficult-to-read and interpret statistics. The reporting offered by SD WAN vendors can be equally granular but also simpler when needed, featuring easy-to-understand, at-a-glance reports.

Proactive issue detection and resolution

SD WAN solutions detect packet loss and poor latency and jitter, either flagging the issue to IT administrators or making an immediate decision to reroute traffic to an alternative circuit. The reporting also contributes to identifying issues and trends over time, helping to understand future network usage. While SD WAN can automate decisions, IT teams can also apply granular control over application traffic by making adjustments as needed.

Strengthening Network Security with SD WAN

Encrypted data transmission utilizes advanced encryption algorithms to secure data as packets are sent across networks. By implementing encrypted transmission, organizations can protect sensitive data, ensuring confidentiality, data integrity, and availability. Technologies such as AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) are required when leveraging public networks (i.e., the Internet).

Vendor solutions often differ in capability, but network segmentation is one strategy that keeps areas of the business separate in the event a security breach occurs. The segmentation of networks works by isolating each area to represent individual networks, with the theory that it is unlikely the whole network will suffer downtime from the attack. Micro-segmentation provides even more granular control over the segmentation within a network, which often fits the requirements of financial services companies.

SASE and SSE security (as defined by Gartner) provide the necessary components to secure the network. The major threats faced by organizations today include zero-day exploits, ransomware, and malware. Advanced threat protection is provided using the following components:

The above components are the requirements to avoid network and user attacks and incidents, with cloud-based updates ensuring your security posture is always poised to defend.

Digital transformation can often not be completed due to legacy contracts and capital cost equipment that cannot be replaced. It is therefore important that existing security solutions can work within any new SD WAN or SASE network architecture. Research into solutions will determine whether your prospective SD WAN capability can integrate with other platforms, such as firewalls.

Netify has written articles about compliance and regulatory considerations, which are essential security factors for organizations because they must adhere to industry-specific regulations, including GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI-DSS. Without considering these regulations, there can be significant fines and potential legal issues that can bring a business to a standstill.

SD WAN and the Future of Remote Work

Meeting the demands of a geographically dispersed users requires a WAN capable of addressing different types of connectivity (4G, 5G, Broadband and leased line) while sensing current network conditions - SD WAN meets the challenge by dynamically optimizing network traffic over the afore mentioned connections which ensures consistent application performance and user experience.

As an example, the deployment  of application-aware routing enables SD WAN to give priority to critical applications including VoIP and video conferencing vs over less important traffic such as Email or file transfer. This intelligent prioritization guarantees high-quality communication and collaboration among remote employees.

For a distributed workforce, reliable access to cloud applications is of utmost importance. SD WAN seamlessly integrates with cloud service providers by utilizing direct internet access (DIA) and cloud on-ramps to decrease latency and enhance application performance. By taking advantage of direct connections, SD WAN circumvents the traditional hub-and-spoke network architecture because the backhaul of traffic to a central data center is reduced (if not totally removed) as businesses use vendors such as AWS, Azure and Google Cloud.

Effective collaboration and communication among remote workers are vital for productivity. SD WAN's Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities differ from MPLS as they provide more granular options with the ability to change in realtime. SD WAN QoS features include traffic shaping, prioritization, bandwidth reservation and the ability to re-route as required. By proactively monitoring and adjusting network conditions, SD WAN guarantees a seamless collaboration experience which again enables digital transformation.

Dealing with security challenges faced by remote workers is a crucial aspect of SD WAN implementation. In-built security features which include next-generation firewalls (NGFW), intrusion prevention systems (IPS), and secure web gateways (SWG) safeguard remote workers from cyber threats. 

Further, SD WAN can integrate with Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) solutions to establish secure perimeters around individual devices, applications, and data, further enhancing security for remote workers.

Several case studies demonstrate businesses adopting remote work with SD WAN. For instance, a multinational corporation with a sizable remote workforce implemented SD WAN to optimize network traffic and improve application performance, resulting in decreased latency and increased productivity. In another example, a mid-sized organization utilized SD WAN to facilitate secure access to cloud applications and resources for its distributed workforce, allowing employees to collaborate effortlessly across various locations. These examples showcase the potential of SD WAN to transform remote work by providing flexible, secure, and high-performance connectivity for dispersed teams.

SD WAN Transformation - Deployment

Swift establishment of new locations is a prime benefit of SD WAN technology. Companies can efficiently set up new branches and remote sites without complex, time-intensive hardware installations or manual configurations. Thanks to zero-touch provisioning, SD WAN devices automatically connect to a central orchestrator which in turn send configuration and policy updates which simplifies the deployment process and reduces downtime.

Modern organizations must adapt to changing bandwidth requirements as they heavily depend on cloud services, real-time applications and remote workforces. SD WAN facilitates dynamic bandwidth allocation which allows companies to scale up or down as necessary. The versatility of SD WAN not only enhances network performance but also lowers costs by preventing over provisioning of costly circuits.

Mergers and acquisitions often pose challenges in integrating diverse network infrastructures. SD WAN's cohesive management platform and adaptable architecture allow organizations to streamline network integration which decreases complexity and potential disruptions during the transition.

Staying prepared for future network demands is vital for organizations to maintain competitiveness in the digital age. SD WAN's scalable and flexible nature ensures businesses can promptly respond to emerging trends, novel technologies, and shifting user needs.

Choosing the appropriate SD WAN provider or vendor requires understanding various architectures, such as on-premises, cloud-based and hybrid models. Evaluating vendors based on key features like security, application-aware routing and analytics can help determine the best fit for an organization's specific needs.

Total cost of ownership (TCO) should be factored in when selecting an SD WAN solution, considering aspects such as:

  • Hardware expenses
  • Licensing fees
  • Ongoing maintenance

Trial deployments and proof-of-concept projects offer valuable insights into a solution's real-world performance and user-friendliness.

Finally, implementing SD WAN successfully involves assessing the existing network infrastructure and needs, devising a phased deployment plan and guaranteeing a smooth transition to the new technology. Training IT personnel and end-users on the SD WAN platform and its features is critical for harnessing its full potential.

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