March 9th, 2021 2:48pm
While traditional wide-area networking, enhanced by multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), has powered companies' applications and services for years, there is now increasing interest and movement toward software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN). There is a good reason for this trend: The advantages of using SD-WAN line up with the technology needs of modern businesses.
As the name states, software-defined wide-area networks use software to control the connectivity, management and services between data centers and remote branches or cloud instances. Similar in concept to software-defined networking (SDN), SD-WAN decouples the control plane from the data plane.
One of SD-WAN’s key features is the ability to manage multiple connections from MPLS to fiber to broadband to LTE. Another important piece is the ability to segment, partition and secure the traffic traversing the WAN.
An increasing reliance on cloud-hosted services and software-as-a-service (SaaS) deployment models for mission-critical applications, coupled with the continuing desire for cost savings and agility in IT, has influenced decision-makers. Now, companies that have already added SD-WAN resources are seeing the benefits.
By taking a closer look at these advantages, you can determine whether SD-WAN has a place in your data center.
One of the simplest yet most compelling aspects of SD-WAN is the fact that it is faster, easier and more affordable to add capacity than with traditional WAN. When it's time to bring a new business location or service online, businesses are focused on reducing their time to market and accelerating their ROI.
Businesses will have the ability to add branch locations in a couple of weeks using SD-WAN, versus several months or longer with traditional network technologies. Implementing SD-WAN will provide increased business agility, reduce operational expenses and improve application performance.
The budgetary benefits of SD-WAN also come from its centralized architecture. When geographically dispersed operations teams all have access to the same cloud-based console, they are able to manage IT infrastructure and applications across the entire organization, dramatically cutting operating expenses.
SD-WAN is a cost-effective and simplified approach to traditional wide area networking and is already earning its place in the corporate tech pantheon. With that said, there are plenty of additional benefits.
For example, companies requiring faster and more reliable internet connectivity and better application performance from bandwidth-hungry applications, such as video meeting software, can take advantage of SD-WAN's application-aware routing to provide quality-of-service (QoS) prioritization for those specific applications.
Organizations building out their WANs globally will also find that they are able to complete this task more quickly and effectively with SD-WAN. When opening a branch office or remote location, increasingly common in the age of global and virtual workforces, the location can be connected within a couple of weeks versus several months for MPLS. The management of the new deployments is simpler, as is adding new SaaS applications or cloud services to the network.
SD-WAN security features vary by vendor, so IT decision-makers should ensure they are working with a knowledgeable service provider experienced with network security. With that said, the leading SD-WAN technologies deliver full data encryption, local firewalls and additional tools to implement secure boundaries between an organization’s infrastructure and the public internet. These security features, as with SD-WAN capabilities in general, can be provisioned and managed through a single, centralized console.
Administrators managing an SD-WAN also have the ability to drill down into network traffic and control that activity on a more granular level. The ability to determine who is using which applications and from where allows IT teams to set policies around allowed and disallowed traffic types, which helps to mitigate risks.
SD-WAN establishes a meshed architecture and fail-over redundancy. Most traditional MPLS networks are architected as a hub-and-spoke topology. In that case, traffic from location A (spoke location) will need to pass through the data center (HUB) and then travel to location B. With a meshed topology, traffic can travel directly from location A to location B (spoke location) without passing through the data center.
An SD-WAN based network uses multiple connections that are load balanced to control traffic volume and optimize your bandwidth utilization. These multiple circuits also provide fail-over capability if any of the connections are temporarily down. Many SD-WAN solutions offer traffic performance features to reduce jitter and latency on the network, which improves performance for real-time applications such as VoIP calls and video conferencing.
IT leaders who may have been drawn to SD-WAN because of the speed of deployment or the lower cost compared to traditional networking may be surprised to find that they have not just equaled the capabilities of standard MPLS WANs but exceeded them. This is especially true in cases of SaaS or cloud applications, where the low-latency connections enabled by SD-WAN will deliver application performance improvements.
Network engineering teams will determine where in their IT infrastructure they want to deploy SD-WAN. It can replace traditional networking in either a layer 2 or layer 3 configuration, and is often deployed alongside MPLS circuits, acting as fail-over and/or added capacity until those MPLS contracts expire. This allows for a seamless transition from MPLS to SD-WAN over time.
While it's relatively quick and easy to deploy SD-WAN, even in a new data center or remote office, there are a few requirements engineers have to check off when getting up to speed with this new networking approach. For example, there are typically broadband circuits in place, along with a local appliance (either hardware or virtual). Ideally, that local appliance also has firewall capabilities to allow for local off-loading of general internet browsing traffic, as well as WAN optimization capability.
Prior to the design phase for an SD-WAN implementation, IT leadership should arrange for an assessment of their network infrastructure, including communication circuits and carrier contracts; the type and volume of current network traffic; the bandwidth demands and utilization for production applications; and the bandwidth requirements for any new applications the organization plans to add.
A migration from MPLS to SD-WAN does not have to be an intrusive rip-and-replace process. It should instead be a well-planned and executed project that maximizes your investments in the legacy network infrastructure, with gradual cutover as circuit contracts expire. As noted throughout, the two technologies can seamlessly work alongside each other, and by leveraging SD-WAN’s app-aware routing, administrators can determine what traffic goes to which circuits, providing for fail-over and diversity of service.
Organizations that want to transition more of their WAN traffic to SD-WAN, can add more throughput over time as desired. By shifting their WAN architecture to software-defined networking in planned phases, IT operations teams can quickly and easily add capacity to new or existing branch locations as needed.
If you’re considering adopting SD-WAN for your organization, a critical the first step in getting this process underway is to complete a comprehensive assessment of your current WAN environment(s). MK7 uses automation tools and follows a structured methodology to assist you with this assessment, saving you time and money. We will also credit back a portion of your assessment investment toward the SD-WAN design and project plan.
To begin your SD-WAN journey and start seizing the advantages that have helped so many other organizations that have already made make this move in recent years, reach out to MK7 to schedule an introductory conversation.