Given the global nature of business, explosion of cloud services, and frequency of mergers & acquisitions (M&A) organizations must adapt and expand their networks significantly in order to keep up.
As each new merger occurs or acquisition is made, a new location is tied into a main network. Usually each location will have its own unique network and security infrastructure that must be “merged” into the existing corporate network, with the challenging twist that they were never designed to work with one another. As you can probably guess, this often doesn’t scale well.
Generally, organizations address these challenges using a combination of virtual private networks (VPNs), multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) links, and cloud services. These technologies often get the job done and keep data flowing. However, the difficulty of provisioning, maintaining, and securing a hodgepodge of services across a network can lead to significant financial and productivity costs.
VPN and MPLS have their use, but they simply aren’t flexible enough to strike a reasonable balance between cost, performance, and scalability in modern enterprise networks. Invariably as networks scale and become more diverse and geographically dispersed, the limitations of these traditional networking solutions are brought to light. This is where SD-WAN can make a big impact.
In this piece, we’ll dive into the challenges organizations face using the traditional solutions, how SD-WAN can help address those challenges, and what to look for should you decide SD-WAN is right for you.
The challenges of a “merged but unmeshed” network
To explain the challenges of an unmeshed network in a nutshell: think about the last time you needed to access an application or document but couldn’t because you weren’t connected to the right network or in the right place. In a truly meshed network, that problem does not exist since each node has a direct connection to the other nodes in the network. Two telltale signs of a “merged but unmeshed” network include: high latency (particularly over long distances and to the cloud) and poor bandwidth utilization (due to inefficient “backhauling” to corporate security appliances and “trombone routing”). These will then add up to decreased performance and productivity on any network.
While IT teams do their best to make sure everything is secure and connected using the traditional solutions, they often fall short of creating a truly “meshed” network given the limitations and challenges associated with tying multiple discrete network technologies together at scale. The end result is a network that, while functional, is not optimized.
VPN solutions enable security and allow access to required network resources, but can become a hurdle from an operational standpoint. VPN inherently creates overhead and therefore often increases latency. If your network requires granular Quality of Service (QoS) control or sends a lot of voice and video data, VPN becomes a much less attractive solution.
MPLS fairs better when it comes to latency, susceptibility to DoS, and QoS & traffic shaping, but also has its drawbacks. Two of the biggest issues with MPLS are: it isn’t cheap and you may need to deal with multiple service providers to connect all your locations. Getting a site from planning to connected using MPLS can take months. Meshing a network with MPLS only usually isn’t practical or cost effective.
How SD-WAN enables meshed infrastructure
By taking a cloud-based, software defined approach to routing and connectivity, SD-WAN as a Service (SDWaas) makes it easy for users to connect to the apps, services, and infrastructure they need from anywhere with Internet access. In the process, cloud-based SD-WAN pushes you closer to a truly meshed network and creates a seamless experience for users while lightening the workload on your network engineers.
Since SD-WAN can be agnostic to the underlying transport method (e.g. broadband, MPLS, LTE, fiber, etc) and uses software defined rules to make routing and security decisions, provisioning can be reduced from a matter of weeks or months to a matter of minutes or hours. The ease of integration with cloud services offered by premium SD-WAN solutions helps make sure that shifting a given service to the public cloud doesn’t become a performance or security roadblock.
One of the more compelling arguments in favor of SD-WAN is that it is able to achieve all of these benefits while offering enhanced security and traffic shaping capabilities. With SD-WAN you can easily define polices and rules to make your network infrastructure work in a way that is optimized for your use case.
The paradigm shift here is that SD-WaaS is based in the cloud, offering a centralized & secure connection point, supported by reliable infrastructure, and enhanced by the flexibility and scalability of software defined routing. As you can see, these advantages all come together to make SD-WAN, particularly cloud-based solutions, uniquely capable of seamlessly integrating the otherwise highly-segmented networks often created after a few iterations of M&As.
Tying it all together: choosing the right SD-WAN solution & strategy
So, what does all this mean for you? Simply put, SD-WAN can take your infrastructure from simply “merged” to truly “meshed”. With this in mind, it’s important to know that there are a variety of solutions with the SD-WAN label and not all are created equal. Here are the key points to look for when vetting an SD-WAN solution:
- Is it a management tool or an infrastructure solution?Some SD-WAN providers only enable intelligent routing over your existing hardware. Premium solutions provide infrastructure solutions as well, giving you a robust core network to go along with the management capabilities.
- How’s the security? Keeping network traffic secure is a must from any solution. Features like Firewall as a Service (FWaaS) and secure direct Internet access help make security easier to implement and more robust.
- What level of control do you get?Extensibility is what makes SD-WAN so powerful. Any quality SD-WAN solution should enable you to quickly and easily make adjustments to rules, polices, and infrastructure.
- Does it integrate with your cloud services?The majority of organizations today are using at least some cloud-based applications, selecting an SD-WAN solution designed with those in mind.
- What are the SLAs? Always protect yourself and make sure you chose a provider that offers a fair and enforceable SLA (service level agreement).
- Is there fault tolerance? In IT, things fail. Make sure your SD-WAN solution accounts for this and includes a plan mitigate the impact of any given failure (e.g. via failover to the next closest point of presence).
Keeping those points in mind will help you select an SD-WAN solution that meets your needs and helps take your network from merged & segmented to meshed & optimized.