Software-Defined Wide Area Network: An intelligent approach to global networking

By Genius Wong

As enterprises look to deliver cutting-edge services to their tech-savvy customers, move into new markets, rethink their business models, and disrupt entire industries, the CIO needs to enable digital transformation across the IT estate. With the pace of technology innovation and the data explosion showing no signs of slowing down, it’s time to ask: is your network propelling your growth in the platform economy, or holding it back?

Video, IoT and Cloud creating new network challenges

The biggest challenges that the world’s networks face at present are the continuing demand for more bandwidth, the multi-layered nature of wired and wireless networks, and enterprises’ increasing dependency on cloud applications.

The growth in bandwidth demand is largely driven by video use by both businesses and consumers. By 2020, video will represent more than 80 percent of all Internet traffic, with nearly 1 million minutes of video content travelling across the Internet every second. The multi-layered nature of networks is also creating a whole new level of complexity that is set to become exacerbated by the Internet of Things, generating billions of new connections.

Additionally, enterprises are having to deal with a complex combination of private, public and hybrid cloud. Their on-premise applications might include enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions and sensitive customer data, whereas a private cloud might house Office 365 and mobility applications. A public cloud might have non-mission-critical applications, such as marketing automation tools. Enterprises also have to address the requirements of their increasingly mobile workforce, which makes data flows difficult to predict and manage.

Due to these challenges, a next-generation network will be needed to deal with heavier and more complex workloads than before. But what will this next generation business network look like?

Will the next-generation network be wired or wireless?

5G will undoubtedly play a key role in meeting businesses’ connectivity demands. But while these latest wireless technologies attract the lion’s share of attention in the media at present – with organisations such as the European Commission pushing the industry to accelerate 5G roll-outs – wired connections will not disappear anytime soon. In fact, they will play a role in addressing businesses’ needs for secure, easy-to-manage and cost-effective networking.

Wired connections and physical fibre infrastructures won’t disappear because they will be capable of carrying superior workloads than wireless alternatives for the foreseeable future. New 40G, 100G and even 400G technologies mean that speed and capacity will continue to grow to meet demand.

Another area where wireless connections still can’t match wired networks is security. It remains easier to control and monitor what traffic is going out or coming in to the network when using a physical wired connection. After all, wireless is a shared medium, so anyone who is in range of the signals can capture and potentially interfere with them.

SD-WAN – a promising technology

One of the technologies that many enterprises are looking at addressing their global network challenges is a Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN). While a nascent technology at present, SD-WAN is set for huge growth: Gartner predicts that by 2018 more than 40 percent of WAN edge infrastructure refresh initiatives will be SD-WAN-based, up from less than 2 percent today.

An SD-WAN enables enterprises to deploy a new kind of hybrid network infrastructure that combines the scalability and cost-effectiveness of the Internet with security and reliability of a private MPLS WAN. This gives the CIO unprecedented control over the entire network infrastructure across all branch offices, and lowers the barriers for enterprises to expand into new geographies.

In practice, an SD-WAN enhances the performance of both on-premise and cloud applications. The CIO could change routing policies in real-time, and assign different policies for different offices depending on demand, for example. The ability to dynamically route traffic between the Internet and the private network, and use the public Internet for less business-critical applications, makes the enterprise network a lot more cost-effective.

An SD-WAN also improves the end user experience, as congestion is minimised and application responsiveness is maximised. This helps ensure that employees are able to enjoy faultless, secure access to applications and data to empower them to collaborate securely and seamlessly, wherever in the world they are. The benefits are clear: a boost in productivity and an improved bottom line.

Reinventing global networking

The practically ubiquitous connectivity granted by the Internet has unlocked new markets for enterprises and lowered the barriers for international expansion. It has paved the way for a whole new platform economy where new business models emerge and transform entire industries. Crucial for the growth of this platform economy is the data that fuels it, the applications that power it, the clouds that underpin it, and the connectivity that brings organisations and consumers together to create value from it.

But as the platform economy continues to grow, ubiquitous, reliable, easy-to-manage, superfast connectivity that brings enterprises, their employees and customers together on a global scale becomes paramount. That is there is a need to reinvent networking with innovations such as SD-WAN – only then will enterprises be able to grab their share of the growth opportunities that the new digitally driven, cloud-powered economy brings.

The author is President, Global Network Services, Cloud and Data Centre Services at Tata Communications

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Updated Date: Mar 30, 2017 17:54:51 IST