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With increasing digital disruption, IT organisations are challenged to find ways to continually reduce the costs and complexities of managing an enterprise wide area network (WAN).
Among the approaches adopted in recent years is software-defined networking (SDN) – an architecture usually used for internal datacentres at a campus or corporate headquarters.
A similar software-defined system is a technology called SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network), which further uses the software concept to separate the control and data aspects of traditional WAN.
With an ASEAN perspective in mind, Computer Weekly set out to explore the premise that will see most enterprise adopting a “cloud-first” SD-WAN architecture in 2018 – designed to efficiently and effectively support the ongoing evolution in their application mix.
Challenges with traditional networks
Nikhil Batra, IDC Asia-Pacific’s senior research manager for telecoms, says most WAN traffic today – to and from branch and remote sites – is destined for the cloud, either to cloud-based or hosted applications.
“The traditional WAN was architected for branch-to-data-centre traffic flows, not to efficiently support new cloud-driven traffic patterns,” he says, noting that enterprises that are still using traditional networks will face performance challenges and operational issues.
For example, besides the need to support diverse requirements and applications from different business units, traditional network architectures are too rigid to support the agility that organisations are looking for in expanding into new markets.
The growing prevalence of shadow IT and remote access to applications outside the safe realms of the traditional WAN have also introduced more network complexity, making traditional WAN inherently less secure, Batra says.
With as many as 80% of organisations using some sort of cloud-based services today, traditional WAN networks do not offer the predictable and reliable performance of SD-WAN offerings.
“SD-WAN is all about WAN transformation for the cloud era, helping to ensure that branch offices and remote sites are configured consistently to connect users to applications, while assuring security, optimising network and application performance, and reducing complexity and costs in the process,” says Batra.
A forecast from IDC estimates that worldwide SD-WAN infrastructure and services revenues will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 69.6% and reach $8.05bn in 2021.
In ASEAN, almost 56% of organisations have already deployed or are planning to deploy SD-WAN in their networks, according to IDC. Out of these, nearly 30% singled out the policy-based control and WAN optimisation capabilities of SD-WAN as top drivers for implementing the technology.
“The ability of SD-WAN solutions to create organisation-wide policies to off-load certain low-key branch office and application traffic from MPLS to the internet through cheaper means is integral for optimising network resources,” says IDC.
Nitin Acharekar, head of networking at Dell EMC South Asia, sees significant growth in WAN traffic directed towards cloud applications, with enterprise WAN traffic growing by 247% in Asia Pacific and Japan, compared with 156% in the Americas and 221% in Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“SD-WAN as a critical component of digital transformation,” says Acharekar. “For enterprises large and small, SD-WAN presents an opportunity to lower the cost of cloud connectivity, while optimising WAN traffic patterns and usage, leading to accelerated digital transformation.”
Take Singapore-based telco Singtel, for example. The early adopter of SD-WAN with a significant global footprint turned to the technology to reduce its global WAN bill, while achieving better quality connectivity than that of multiprotocol label switching (MPLS).
Other drivers for SD-WAN adoption include growing spending on cloud computing, mobility and big data analytics – all of which have been putting a lot of strain on traditional networks. “Consequently, infrastructure investments are increasingly made for strategic rather than tactical reasons,” says Batra.
Rolf Muralt, vice-president of product management for SD-WAN specialist Silver Peak, expects the growing momentum of SD-WAN to draw more suppliers to the market, though he believes there will be a gulf between those that deliver mature systems and those that rush to market with “a minimal viable response to demand”.
“To date, Silver Peak Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN solution has already surpassed 600 global customer deployments, and we anticipate that this momentum will exponentially accelerate in ASEAN as SD-WAN becomes mainstream,” says Muralt.
Despite the benefits of SD-WAN, key barriers to adoption remain. First, SD-WAN adoption requires a new approach towards operationalising and managing a hybrid network comprising physical and virtualised technologies.
This requires a complete operational transformation across organisations, affecting both IT and the business that most enterprises are unprepared for, says Dell EMC’s Acharekar.
Read more about SD-WAN
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- Riverbed Technology has made it possible to connect its SteelConnect SD-WAN to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure using the public cloud providers' private links.
“SD-WAN implementation also requires decoupling of hardware and software to virtualise network intelligence functions, leading to reduced complexity of configuration and increased agility for enterprises.
“However, in the current networking appliance market, the hardware and software vendors are typically the same. Hence, decoupling one from another becomes extremely complex for enterprises,” he adds.
To be successful in rolling out SD-WAN, enterprises must see the technology as an opportunity to lower the cost of network services. However, cost should not be the only consideration while choosing the ideal system, as business and IT challenges are equally paramount for successful implementation, Acharekar says.
IDC’s Batra advises enterprises to map out how their networks fit into their digital transformation roadmap, and be wary of confusing messages and claims about SD-WAN. When drawing up a migration strategy, enterprises should also forecast their network requirements before deciding on a phased or “big-bang” approach.