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Redefining WAN with broadband

Mike HemesThe dawn of cloud computing and the proliferation of software-as-a-service (SaaS) has thrown open the doors to a new world of information and data, granting businesses flexible, on-demand access to services and applications. The potential benefits of this innovation are obvious: reduced operational costs, increased efficiency and greater agility. But as is often the case when innovations gain ground, this shift also leaves organisations wondering: how do they go about smoothly integrating these new tools?

Businesses looking to optimise access to and transportation of enterprise information can no longer rely on existing IT infrastructure. These legacy systems, which have supported interconnectivity to date, now don’t have the capacity to meet the needs and challenges of a business world increasingly turning to the cloud and SaaS. This calls for a rethink of the enterprise wide area network (WAN).

Most contemporary businesses employ the WAN – whether it’s collaborating within or outside of the enterprise, or transporting data across geographic distances, the wide area network is essential. For the last decade, access to the WAN has been defined by the use of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology, which has provided enterprises with a reliable, high-performance means of connecting data centres with branch offices.

It was, however, and remains, an expensive solution. Faced with the explosion of cloud-based services and a subsequent need to operate at cloud speed, enterprises seeking to access applications are finding MLPS networks no longer meet their requirements within reasonable cost structures.

Finding the middle ground

This has prompted an overarching need for a responsive and agile system that can support rapidly evolving business and network requirements. When using MLPS, IT organisations risk facing an extended lag time when they need to expand connectivity to a new office or add on to their existing bandwidth, and will typically have to offer onsite IT support.

A second concern is the growing costs attached to accessing the network. As cloud applications become prevalent, users are experiencing greater latency when accessing applications and traffic through MLPS links, which tend to become congested. For an enterprise with users in diverse locations, this latency translates into costly delays and can render applications unusable, adding to the cost of operations.

IT organisations are also faced with a lack of full visibility and control over the rapidly expanding application mix. Essentially, without complete oversight of SaaS applications being used, it becomes difficult for the IT department to provide support when performance and connectivity issues arise.

Some organisations have responded to this challenge by relying on direct Internet connectivity to bridge the gap. Offering cost-effective and easy access, this could appear a sound solution. In the long term, however, it isn’t viable, lacking the reliability, scalability and security that present-day organisations require.

So where then does a contemporary and ambitious business turn? Happily, there is a middle ground between the two ends of the spectrum. A middle ground that could mean reducing dependency on MPLS, while using Internet connectivity in a secure, controlled and optimised manner, and guaranteeing consistent and reliable performance for end-users, doing so at a sizably reduced cost.

A secure and cost-effective solution

The technology to do this already exists – it’s called software-defined WAN, also known as SD-WAN. This solution allows enterprises to rapidly and non-disruptively augment or replace existing MLPS networks with broadband Internet, thus ensuring the flexibility of ubiquitous, instant-on connectivity. This flexibility is also transferred to the organisation’s IT staff as it cuts down on procurement and deployment time by allowing connectivity decisions to be made independent of carriers.

Visibility and control concerns raised by IT organisations in the wake of growing SaaS and cloud application use are also countered by the introduction of WAN virtualisation. The SD-WAN overlay provides visibility into both data centre and cloud traffic, and enables the IT team to centrally assign business intent policies to secure and control the WAN traffic.

Further, SD-WAN technology means ensuring private line performance over the Internet, as dropped and out-of-order packets are repaired in real-time, providing greater WAN efficiency and ensuring the optimal performance of the system.

Ultimately, of course, the most important factor of injecting innovation seamlessly into a business’ infrastructure is the cost of doing so, and the CAPEX and OPEX of upgrading IT infrastructure will always determine the final course of action. The benefit of introducing SD-WAN is that the overlay approach means enterprises can avoid overhauling existing WAN investments. By allowing organisations to mix and match carriers, the overlay WAN allows them to move at their own pace, making use of existing MLPS solutions and exploring new lower-cost broadband services as upgrades arise.

Added to the dramatically reduced cost of connectivity, equipment and network administration, this translates into a significant reduction in the overall expenditure of embracing a new IT infrastructure.

The end result is a solution, which allows organisations to transition to a new WAN model at minimal disruption or cost and fully embrace the new world of cloud and SaaS applications, and where payback on investments starts immediately.

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