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Our brave new world of software presents overwhelming opportunities to automate our lives, both personally and professionally. There will always be the next novel technology trend to chase where some prevail with great success while others fade into obscurity. This last decade has seen the rise of cloud computing with an explosion in the adoption of hosted software subscription services. This massive cloud adoption by companies of all sizes has spawned a paradigm shift in the design of modern networks in a cloud-centric world. The Software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN)is the latest network technology fashion and presents a solid framework that can address these networking challenges.
SD-WAN is the decoupling of hardware from the network operating system(as the name suggests)with a centralized cloud-based control mechanism. The ultimate purpose of SD-WAN is to securely connect users to their applications, regardless of where they reside, through a high-performance, reliable network architecture. It is transparent to the type of WAN service employed, whether it be Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), broadband, or cellular LTE connections, for example. SD-WAN can also be described as the unification of existing network concepts such as firewall, segmentation, routing, WAN optimization, application performance and visibility, etc. with continuous adaption to business priorities. The SD-WAN based network is an enabler for the business as opposed to a constraint as it may have seemed with legacy router-centric networks. Your perception of this topology will vary depending on which chair of the organization you view it from.
From the corporate user chairs, in the simplest terms, they want their business-critical applications to work from all their devices and to be always available. They have little tolerance for downtime and application lag when faced with heavy workloads and aggressive deadlines. When something does not work as expected, the relatively low technology aptitude of the typical user creates frustrations for themselves as well as the support personnel tasked to help. SD-WAN can allay these application issues with its traffic shaping through load and quality of service routing policies. When things are working as expected, users really have no need or interest in understanding the underlying technology, but when things lag, your boss hears about it, and then it becomes a fire drill for you to manage. With SD-WAN, the network administrators have a comprehensive toolset to resolve and monitor these user-facing issues proactively.
"SD-WAN is the decoupling of hardware from the network operating system with a centralized cloud-based control mechanism"
From the network administrator chair, SD-WAN provides an extensible multifunction platform to design a standardized high-performance WAN architecture. The networking component of SD-WAN is typically just one feature of a universal appliance (virtual or real) that also provides threat management, traffic shaping as well as performance monitoring. The box count in the server room is dramatically reduced, simplifying the network stack. What once required expensive specialized hardware and technical skills is now a few point-and-clicks away. Configuration changes are completely in the network administrator’s control and readily available through familiar browser-based admin consoles. From the admin console, network and application policies are configured, which can be globally deployed in mere seconds for even a geographically distributed multisite environment with hundreds of nodes. The creation, modification, and management of sprawling WAN topologies is faster and easier than anyone ever could have hoped. For many organizations, the networking team can be condensed to a single office-based system administrator who most likely is a generalist tasked with many other daily support tasks.
From the technology leader chair, SD-WAN provides the ability to free themselves from the stronghold of expensive private WAN technologies such as MPLS. There is still a place for private point to point circuits, but for many companies, the ability to create highly redundant and available networks with commodity direct internet access connections is a windfall to budgets and peace of mind. For organizations looking to modernize or overhaul their wide area network quickly, SD-WAN is the perfect solution since it can be installed in a phased deployment as well as a complete “forklift” approach with much less risk than typical legacy setups. It can be implemented and managed in a manner that requires the only basic knowledge of networking protocols and operating systems negating the need for personnel with advanced routing expertise or other specialized networking skills. There is no longer a reason to engage frustratingly slow big telco company support departments that seem to require acts of Congress for the smallest of configuration changes. Another side effect of technology evolution, such as this, is the need for organizational agility and restructuring of teams. We all remember the days when multiple Exchange Server administrators were common for even modest-sized businesses. The advent of email SaaS has pretty much removed that title from most organizations, and similarly, SD-WAN will enable new efficiencies for already lean technology departments.
From the executive suite chairs, SD-WAN comes across as another acronym for a confusing technology concept with bold claims such as built-in business continuity, capital and overhead budget reductions, employee productivity increases, and improved workplace satisfaction. While these are all features of SD-WAN, the technology leaders are responsible for explaining these concepts and ultimately securing approval for the project. The executives’ responsibility is to ensure the success of the organization and (smart) technology utilization such as SD-WAN is one piece of this formula. A well designed SD-WAN implementation is an enabler to the business by providing a network platform with the agility to follow their priorities. One way or another in this age of Everything-as-a-Service, SD-WAN will surely find its place in your technology plan, and when it does, everyone will gain from it regardless of which chair you occupy