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Why SD-WAN is winning the conversation about next-generation network infrastructure

Digital transformation is tough, especially when it’s accelerated and intensified by the additional pressures of the pandemic, the shift to remote working, and the explosive growth in the adoption of multiple cloud services.

Yet despite those pressures, 69% of company boards say they will speed up their digital business initiatives, according to one recent Gartner survey.

This increased pace of digital business, however, has rapidly exposed lingering issues with legacy networks that were generally designed in hub-and-spoke fashion for a time when company data centres were the main home for applications and data.

The transition to multi-cloud environments has changed that, spreading company resources and applications across multiple locations. Organisations are aiming to rebalance the flow of data across new networks that legacy management systems simply can’t control.

Recognising their exposure to this change, businesses are scrambling for next-generation technologies that will allow them to support both legacy networks and evolving new environments that have become too unwieldy to manage using disparate conventional technologies.

Faced with these architectural challenges, enterprises are warming to the possibilities posed by new architectures such as software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs). This approach lets them implement consistent application, network, user and security controls across increasingly complex IT environments.

Adoption of SD-WANs increased significantly during 2020, as companies recognised the need for a flexible network topography that would let them maintain control over a network that extended into remote workers’ homes and the cloud, virtually overnight.

Some 43% of WAN managers surveyed in TeleGeography’s latest WAN Manager Survey said they had installed SD-WAN solutions on at least part of their network, and 25% were rolling it out. That’s a big jump from pre-pandemic figures in which just 18% had installed SD-WAN and 32% were still researching the technology.

By shifting network controls to a software-controlled model, SD-WAN brings both flexibility and integration into networking conversations that were previously limited to technical discussions about protocols, bandwidth, latency and interconnectivity.

IDC has called SD-WAN the “backbone of digital transformation”. The research firm lauds its ability to address key transformation blockers including performance and latency issues, management of multi-cloud environments, deployment of new services, resolving legacy network infrastructure bottlenecks, and avoiding interoperability issues.

“Latency considerations run high on the priority list when building out a network, especially with a shift towards hybrid cloud and multi-cloud architectures,” explains Jason Bordujenko, Global Head of Channel of Solution Architecture with Megaport.

“Organisations using traditional hub and spoke networks often run into performance challenges by forcing cloud traffic to traverse paths that may not be optimised to achieve the required performance and availability for a given cloud service workload.

“As services stretch across different clouds and disparate geographies, not only does network traffic greatly expand, but service quality increasingly depends on the quality of connections between components of the service.”

Although SD-WAN was initially positioned as a flexible way to route traffic between sites, recognition of its greater value has changed that dynamic significantly.

Respondents to the TeleGeography survey report their changing motivations for SD-WAN deployment include improving site capacity, supporting alternative access solutions, and improving performance. This has led to reduced costs and provisioning time, and improved security.

Towards a fully integrated network

SD-WAN also facilitates the deployment of consistent security architectures such as secure access secure edge (SASE). This framework tightly integrates networking and security functions such as security gateways, cloud access security brokers (CASB), zero trust network architectures, firewall as a service, data loss prevention, intrusion detection and prevention systems, domain name system (DNS) security and threat intelligence services.

While SASE coordinates this broad range of security capabilities, SD-WAN provides the controls that apply them across multi-cloud environments.

This means companies can lean on SD-WAN to boost resilience and security by, for example, enforcing multi-factor authentication (MFA) access controls across legacy and cloud-based resources, or enabling micro-segmentation of networks based on organisational units.

Yet companies don’t necessarily have to walk the SD-WAN road by themselves. Network service providers are embracing new network architectures that use SD-WAN capabilities to ensure compliance with service level agreements (SLAs) for network uptime, application optimisation, and resilience.

“We choose particular services that are best suited for customer requirements,” explains Craig Somerville, Founder and Managing Director of IT service provider Somerville – which use a range of network services and technologies to deliver resilient backbones to support customers’ digital transformations.

Using a ‘one network’ approach, Somerville integrates complex networks linking cloud providers with multiple business sites and bring it all together through a centralised, secure gateway into a streamlined network that is easier to understand and manage.

“We’re reducing the attack surface by streamlining the complexities of the traditional networks and tightening the attack window, regardless of the underlying network infrastructure complexities you use,” Somerville says.

Recognising the expertise of service providers in aggregating and managing core connectivity, TeleGeography found that 40% of enterprises are pursuing co-managed solutions. These involve service providers handling the deployment and management of the multi-cloud connectivity, while providing a customer portal through which enterprises can view network analytics, add applications, and manage network and access policies.

Ultimately, this is the value proposition that managed network specialists bring.

“By using diverse connectivity offerings,” says Somerville, “we can offer complete uptime for businesses and that additional level of resilience that customers are looking for.”

Want to learn more?

Read more in our whitepaper “A New Network for a New Normal: How to Build Resilience into your Connected Infrastructure”. Click here to read.

Learn how to build resilience into your connected infrastructure

By shifting network controls to a software-controlled model, SD-WAN brings both flexibility and integration into networking conversations that were previously limited to technical discussions about protocols, bandwidth, latency and interconnectivity.