The origins of SD-WAN lie in the need for a network that could keep pace with the growing needs of a digital business, as a virtualized model that was centrally controlled. Traditional Multiprotocol Layer Switching (MPLS) networks have been around since the 90s and were effective in that it was the original model used to manage connectivity between multiple sites, delivering anything from IP VPNs to metro Ethernet2. But business, industries and markets have rapidly changed since the advent of MPLS networks – we are migrating applications and workloads to the cloud, we are consuming and processing vast amounts of data, more companies are seeking geographical expansion and to enable a remote workforce, cybersecurity threats are evolving, a number of businesses purely serve digital customers.
Companies are also moving data from core to the edge with IoT and 5G deployments to enable better processing and analytics particularly because customer experience is fast becoming a topline priority. This shift would expect that an enterprise network can make the transition and underpins the need to redesign legacy networks towards a hybrid or software-defined approach. People expect information to be available instantly and to be able to work, create, or collaborate from any location. These factors are only the tip of the iceberg as to why networks had to come up to speed with the pace of digital business.
Traditional WAN solutions were not designed for branch-to-cloud connectivity, distributed application access and digital transformation and therefore inadequately provide the security, cost-efficiency and performance needed in today’s hybrid IT environments. The network is progressively in a transformational state driven by the continuous consumption of data that is always on, anytime, anywhere at increasingly faster timeframes. Today’s network has evolved from a static array of interconnected, one-dimensional technologies to a dynamic, always available platform. It is a network that flexes and adjusts to meet the equally dynamic needs of a digital driven economy and is responsive, intelligent, and secure.
In the early adoption days, SD-WAN was mostly about connecting branch locations to a corporate network and achieving cost efficiencies by switching from MPLS to broadband. SD-WAN opportunities are now moving beyond the advantages of connecting branch offices and productivity gains. There are several more drivers propelling the growth of SD-WAN adoption such as geographic expansion, business agility and cloud migration. A software-defined network also increases visibility for more stringent regulation of security policies, right down to an application level. According to a study sponsored by CenturyLink and conducted by IDG, companies that deploy software-defined, or adaptive networking technologies report improvements in network control, IT productivity and efficiency, application speed and performance, and security.
We are also seeing the prevailing shift towards an “experience economy”, where digital businesses must consistently deliver an exceptional customer experience across different channels to keep customers and employees engaged. This means workplace technologies must constantly evolve to empower employees to innovate and become more productive – and the network is core to this evolution.
While hybrid networking and SD-WAN has been talked about for years, it is still a relatively young technology that has not yet seen widespread implementation partially due to cost concerns and complexity. These technologies require practical expertise that not every IT department is equipped with and therefore, the effort required may lead to longer deployment times, higher costs and difficulty scaling. Although SD-WAN solutions can help customers modernize and transform their networks, IT resources are needed at every stage – from implementation and development, to management and support.
Choosing a DIY strategy may come down to simply a matter of budget and size of organization. Smaller organizations with few sites and employees may be adequately resourced to manage their own SD-WAN and minimize the number of vendors that need to be managed. But how efficient is this approach? Do you have enough expertise and available resources on-site to build the roadmap, research vendors, troubleshoot and get the best functionality from your network?
Some enterprises fear losing control by giving up a DIY route and want the ability to make changes dynamically and at speed. But it is not an all or nothing choice; CenturyLink, for example, can provide SD-WAN as a managed service but still give the customer access to a control dashboard.
Co-managed solutions offer organizations the opportunity to self-manage aspects of their SD-WAN, such as security policies and application policy creation, in combination with outsourcing key components of the network — like connectivity and the Service Level Agreement (SLA) to the service provider.
The right partner can mean the difference between an SD-WAN deployment that accelerates innovation and competitive advantage, and one that makes little impact.
Long-haul transport company, Koch Trucking gives us an excellent insight into how decisive SD-WAN planning and implementation resulted in increased productivity and better management of new sites on their network. With SD-WAN, Koch Trucking was able to share their VoIP phone system across sites, replacing 20-yearold phones at smaller locations.
Braskem, the largest petrochemical company in Latin America, also demonstrates excellent use cases for SD-WAN, having deployed the solution across more than 50 of its locations to support global operations, CenturyLink’s SD-WAN solution provides Braskem with the ability to create safe, private networks over a mix of public and private infrastructure, with site-to-site encryption regardless of access or transport technology used. The solution also provides centralized management and control to steer traffic on an application-by-application basis or by access type, enabling the connection of disparate sites across a variety of backbone connections. Workplaces are rapidly changing not only in the services they deliver – driven by data and Artificial Intelligence – but the very nature of work has transformed.
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, digital businesses were already enabling a distributed workforce with cloud-based communications solutions and video collaboration. Given the remote work situation we have found ourselves in of late, a powerful network would be fundamental to supporting business continuity, which is something I’ve previously discussed at depth.
A majority of IT professionals are opting for managed or co-managed SD-WAN solutions. What cannot be overstated is the importance of finding an SD-WAN partner with the required experience to implement a network that truly maximizes your business productivity. Growing your network is not simply a technology choice but one that has far-reaching impacts on the road to digital transformation. As with most digital technologies, the choice of vendors is abundant. How do you make sure your managed SD-WAN provider measures up?
Key considerations when selecting a managed SD-WAN service provider include3:
According to Gartner, it is important to ensure that OEM vendor and/or managed network service provider roadmaps align with digital transformation initiatives to avoid losing out on broader market innovations. To help your decision-making, have a look at this guide to your managed SD-WAN partner selection.
As a global network carrier and managed service provider, CenturyLink has years of experience planning and managing complex WANs. Our SD-WAN portfolio is paired with multi-vendors including Versa Networks and Cisco Meraki / Viptela, ensuring more choice for businesses of all size – from SMBs looking for multi-site deployments to large corporations with sophisticated network architectures.
There is still a lot of learning and different skill sets at play with respect to SD-WAN implementation, and a critical consideration is whether your IT team is correctly resourced. Make sure your network is properly managed to harness benefits today and to prepare for the distributed workforce of tomorrow. The right partnership will help your business avoid the common hurdles of SD-WAN management and deliver the performance results that you require.
1 ‘SD-WAN Infrastructure Market Poised to Reach $5.25 Billion in 2023, According to New IDC Forecast’, 24 Jul. 2019, IDC | Analyze the Future
2 Neal Weinberg and Johna Till Johnson, ‘What is MPLS: What you need to know about multi-protocol label switching’, 16 Mar. 2018, Network World
3 Paul Desmond, ‘8 Key Consideration When Selecting a Managed SD-WAN Service Provider’, 11 Sep. 2019, Network World
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