26 Sep 2017

SD-WAN is coming

Four things in life are for certain: birth, death, taxes and a never-ending appetite for more bandwidth.

While the best transmission technologies continue to get better feeding into faster wireless networks and fibre, it would seem that current levels of demand are far outstripping supply.

So, it’s been virtually (pun intended) no surprise to see software playing a greater role in managing and provisioning network capacity, in similar ways that we’ve become accustomed to in the now ubiquitous cloud space.

In general terms a software-defined wide-area-network, or SD-WAN, defines the ability to have network administration centralised independent of the hardware that is located on the premises.

It is emerging as a powerful and vital tool as organisations continue to struggle with a seemingly endless appetite for more bandwidth, as people – and things – adapt to being always on and sharing hungrier applications and richer data sets.

It’s like a bandwidth famine, made more challenging by the fact that step-improvements in network protocols are no longer enough to keep pace in the current market.

The NBN is a perfect example. Initially it was expected to sate demand for more bandwidth on its own, but as we’ve all see that’s not how things turned out. And it was the same through the various faster iterations of DSL, and indeed, wi-fi.

The great thing about SD-WAN, however, is that it affords organisations unparalleled capabilities to provision network capacity anywhere and anytime it’s needed, and at a time when it’s never been needed more. 

Furthermore, while building a proper WAN environment used to be prohibitively expensive for most organisations – especially with regard to hardware – the SD-alternative means WAN capabilities are within reach of any organisation.

No silver bullet

With more pressure to provide powerful and flexible networks that meet the greater demands of a more mobile and empowered workforce, SD-WAN has come to be seen as something of a panacea.

But in reality, it needs to be considered in the broader context of what a given organisation is looking to achieve, and what technologies are already in place.

For example, what does its traffic look like? Is it standard data (e.g. web browsing), voice, video or a mix of all? What sort of networks are being traversed? Copper? Fibre? Synchronous or asynchronous? Where is the data located – at a physical DC, IaaS or at a SaaS platform ?

And where does the data need to be accessed from? The core data centre, main office, or satellite locations?

SD-WAN should be considered not as the best and only solution of all network-related problems, but an extra tool to be used in specific situations with clear improvements over the current infrastructure. It does have a significant advantage in terms of price when compared to traditional infrastructure, but it also holds particular characteristics that may influence on its non-adoption in specific cases.

For example, SD-WAN technologies allow for a high degree of flexibility and automation when it comes to managing networks. They also make it easier to gain proper visibility into network activity, such as who is consuming what, from where and when, which has important implications for improving security, as well as network performance.

When cloud computing began to really take off five or ten years ago, after an initial period of hype and euphoria, the market gradually realised that a hybrid model was the best approach to enjoy the benefits of a dedicated DC architecture and the advantages of public cloud platforms. Similarly, SD-WAN should be considered not as the best and only solution of all network-related problems, but an extra tool to be used in specific situations with clear improvements over the current infrastructure.

At Brennan IT, we are one of the most experienced and respected providers of network solutions in Australia, with expert engineers ready to help your organisation on the next phase of its digital journey.

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