LTE vs 5G: What’s the difference?
The business world has never been so connected. Multi-national organisations have offices all over the world, with staff interfacing via all manner of digital media, from VoIP and videoconferencing through to virtual reality goggles. These tools have helped businesses achieve unprecedented levels of collaboration, productivity and efficiency – but nowadays they are so embedded and critical to employees’ ability to work that it seems businesses can no longer function without them. According to Gartner, for some businesses the cost of network downtime can exceed £4,600 per minute.
This is why CIOs are not just looking for applications to support better ways of working – they’re also looking for solutions to ensure the reliability, availability and quality of experience for users of those applications – solutions such as Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN), an intelligent way to deploy and manage a wide area network comprised of multiple network transports such as MPLS and Internet connectivity.
But not all SD-WAN solutions are alike once you get past the notable advantages for branch office consolidation and simplified network management. Many basic SD-WAN offerings force network administrators to map applications to particular networks manually and set impossible-to-determine thresholds for when to steer traffic to another WAN link. With more advance SD-WAN offerings, by contrast, IT teams can set high-level network-wide policies and sit back and watch as the SD-WAN manages the application traffic automatically.
So it is unsurprising that IDC research predicts that the market for SD-WAN technology will rise at 30.8 per cent compound annual growth rate between 2018 and 2023, to eventually reach a value of $5.25 billion.
Directing traffic intelligently
As mentioned, employees today are well equipped with workplace tech tools to help them complete a wide variety of tasks, from voice dictation right through to live broadcasting. While this offers a dynamic work environment, it also places a considerable amount of pressure on the network, which is required to juggle a multitude of different applications with different demands.
SD-WAN presents a solution to this challenge by allowing several different network services – including MPLS, wired internet broadband DSL, leased lines, and cellular internet services – to be deployed simultaneously. These services can be mixed and matched depending on requirements, for site-to-site as well as site-to-cloud traffic. What’s more, more advanced SD-WAN solutions are capable of determining the optimum packet forwarding combinations to maximise throughput and bandwidth utilisation and minimise the negative effects on application performance of network congestion. For example, more intelligent SD-WAN solutions can ensure that applications (like videoconferencing) that are highly sensitive to jitter or packet loss take the currently best-performing path to its destination, while forwarding less time-sensitive applications across other paths. They can even take advantage of the entire bandwidth across disparate network transports for a single application flow
Such advanced SD-WAN functionality is powered by continuous unidirectional measurement of all traffic between pairs of locations, which also allows the SD-WAN to respond sub-second to any network problems – not just link or device failures, but also the congestion-based packet loss and jitter that naturally occur on shared IP networks – as they occur. Using this real-time data feed, the technology can detect issues and adjust traffic automatically in less than a second, ensuring that applications sessions are not lost and high user quality of experience is preserved no matter what challenges arise.
Guaranteeing security across the entire network
The ability to manage the entire Wide Area Network centrally allows IT teams to control network policies across the board. The ability to enable an intelligent security perimeter with SD-WAN also enables the secure connection and management of remote devices. This is all the more valuable as networks continue to expand across geographies, compliance becomes trickier to maintain, and IoT devices are added with increasing frequency. It is also essential in light of workplace trends like mobile working, Bring Your Own Device, and the gig economy, which make secure, reliable access even more difficult to maintain.
Higher quality of experience
Perhaps the most important benefit of advanced SD-WAN solutions, is that higher Quality of Experience (QoE) they offer for end-users accessing applications. In simple terms, next-generation SD-WANs are self-driving, self-healing solutions that can make decisions to deliver traffic over the network in the best possible way based on the current state of the various network paths, rather than simply the network that is most expensive or usually works best. It takes the pressure off network administrators, as they are confident the SD-WAN will deliver the traffic to its destination reliably and with a high QoE on its own – a great advantage given that Internet connections generally are less reliable, and the WAN overall is historically where IT has had the least visibility and the least control.
The business world today has been enriched by a plethora of next generation applications, from cloud computing, to virtual and augmented reality. Consumers and employees alike have become accustomed to, and indeed rely on, the enhanced functionality that these applications afford. This means companies can’t be satisfied simply by implementing the latest application technology – they also need to ensure that the end-user has predictable, reliable access to it. And that’s exactly why so many CIOs are lining up to implement SD-WAN in their businesses, to ensure that their workforce is able to benefit from technology when they need it the most, whenever and wherever that may be.
Andy Gottlieb, Vice President SD-WAN Solutions, Oracle