The voices of SD-WAN: from challenge to opportunity

The voices of SD-WAN: from challenge to opportunity

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May 9, 2023
Nick Applegarth

SD-WAN article

There are many voices connected to the SD-WAN conversation, which is inevitable given the potential of the technology. That said, these voices typically share a common view of the ‘big picture’ behind SD-WAN, where those responsible for the network can:

• View all network activity in one, easy to understand, management hub
• Set policy and manage performance across hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments
• Ensure optimised, secure and compliant network access is available to remote workers

In other words, SD-WAN delivers multiple outcomes and business benefits to distinct audiences. So, let’s briefly view SD-WAN through the lens of these different voices:

Voice #1: the end user
The expectations that users have for a network are increasingly tied up with the demands of remote and hybrid working practices. A trend that’s fast become normalised – with Gartner alone predicting that by 2026, 75% of employees will routinely split their time between home and the office.

Viewing this transformation in terms of the network, a series of user priorities are quick to emerge:

• Ensure minimum network and performance standards are in place
• Improve home connectivity uptime, alongside a dependable level of redundancy
• Troubleshoot and fix any issues at speed

The role of SD-WAN here is to deliver a superior user experience over broadband internet connections. The technology will therefore have to do a degree of ‘heavy lifting’, helping establish secure connections to the cloud and the office, while automatically sending traffic via the most secure and effective route possible.

Voice #2: the Network Manager
A loose job title that covers all those responsible for overseeing a virtual network and implementing policy. These individuals are well aware of evolving end-user demands, as they are the growing complexity surrounding hybrid cloud and multi-cloud architectures.

Equally, they also appreciate how WAN traffic patterns have fundamentally changed in recent years - and continue to change. For example, it was once estimated that less than 40% of data starts and ends ‘inside’ a WAN – with a growing portion remaining permanently on the ‘outside’. Further research now suggests that some organisations are “repatriating their workloads”, changing the balance back in favour of on-premise. Either way, SD WAN gives companies the flexibility and visibility to manage those shifts according to their needs.

Hence the focus maintained by many Network Managers to:
• Minimise any possibility of downtime
• Prioritise and segment traffic by application and policy
• Ensure business-critical apps are front of the queue for accessing bandwidth

Tasks made instantly possible by the centralised management capabilities inherent with SD-WAN, the full network visibility provided, and the technology’s ability to provision traffic for optimal speeds.

Voice #3: The C-level executive
For the CTO, CIO, CISO etc., the task of enabling a remote/hybrid workforce is top of mind – but it also sits alongside the perennial goals of boosting security, lowering IT complexity, and cutting costs.

As for how C-level challenges are articulated in this area, 5 typical requests emerge:

1. Help prioritise business-critical traffic, and steer it over the most efficient route possible
2. Provide integrated security features that help prevent data loss, downtime, and legal liabilities
3. Ease the IT burden by simplifying WAN infrastructure, and centralising command and control
4. Enable direct cloud access to any remote worker, without burdening the core network with additional traffic to manage and secure
5. Utilise low-cost local internet access and reduce the amount of traffic over the backbone WAN

By helping provide answers to these requests, SD-WAN is rapidly expanding its footprint in the enterprise space – reducing overheads and boosting network performance along the way.

Voice #4: The IT security Manager
The final voice, but arguably the most important, represents those with a security mandate. It’s a view that recognises how the traditional model of backhauling traffic to data centres to apply security policies is not as efficient or effective as it could be. Especially when WAN virtualisation and cloud apps continue to extend the network perimeter.

What’s instead demanded is a more cloud-native application of security on an individual basis as users access the cloud. An approach where security network functions are virtualised to keep pace with evolving threats, while also helping to control the costs of upgrading specific security elements.

For security, SD-WAN can help address 3 core requirements:

• Push enterprise-grade security out to remote workers to protect them against ransomware and phishing attacks
• Provide complete oversight and real-time management of the network
• Ensure constant uptime for critical apps at critical times

In meeting these needs, SD-WAN is complemented by SASE (secure access service edge), which represents the convergence of network access and security in a cloud-based environment. By decentralising the network, SASE securely connects users to their nearest point of presence (PoP) – where security and networking functions are then executed.

These are 4 different perspectives for evaluating the potential of SD-WAN. Why not add you own voice by getting in touch and talking through your challenges and expectations?