IT Brief New Zealand - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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SD-WAN is the next evolution in networking - here's why
Tue, 17th Oct 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

There's been a lot of hype around SD-WAN in recent months, as carriers look to get in on a market estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars in the next few years.

It's important to consider what is driving the hype beyond this technology, and what does it mean for how Australian and New Zealand businesses will shape their networks?

The truth is that this technology is the next evolution in networking. Just as multiprotocol label switching - or MPLS as most of us know it - put its predecessors likerelay to the sword, SD-WAN is here to eventually do the same.

As our group executive Luke Clifton so elegantly put it, this is “the most exciting development in the market since the dawn of 3G.

SD-WAN has the power to take networking discussions away from traditional features and onto applications. This is where the fun is – not the underlying networks on which they run.

If you're driving a Ferrari, you're probably less excited about the road you're travelling on. Roads only come into the thought process when the driving experience is hampered – potholes, traffic jams, etc.

With SD-WAN, these potholes and traffic jams can become a thing of the past and businesses can realise new benefits simply not possible before.

Consider how most business networks operate today.

Most have a range of pipes connecting to all their sites and a router at each site managing how they all connect. These pipes and routers differ depending on the bandwidth needed at each site, for the most-part they're similar.

Most businesses have central internet access running on top of that through which sites connect to reach external information and applications.

This type of set-up has generally been the favoured option - it involves a combination of routers with network infrastructure and overall provides a secure and stable experience. It can also be improved with a series of features such as quality of service (QoS) to help manage data traffic within the network.

Having an effective network is paramount to all businesses – everything from email, processing invoices, conference calling, and more complex digital activities such as data science and analytics, all rely on a connected network to perform.

So, if it ain't broke, why fix it? Why is SD-WAN growing so rapidly?

I believe the true value of SD-WAN is its ability to make the pipes ‘dumb'. That might sound strange, but what it means is that the pipes are no longer where the magic happens.

SD-WAN moves this value via software to the edge devices and applications at each site – the instruments businesses use to construct their digital identities.

ou no longer need features like QoS to manage data within your network – you control it at the application level. SD-WAN does not need the best or most expensive pipes to bring you a business-level service, it works with what you've got.

This spells trouble for tier-one telecoms companies, which collectively have spent billions of dollars on the biggest and best pipes, but it's great news for the customer.

The core value of SD-WAN can be broken into four parts:

SD-WAN lets you bond pipes to get stable and effective bandwidth from cheaper more readily available sources, such as NBN. The traffic from your sites can then be sent in different ways depending on the needs of a specific application.

You manage your network at the application level, not using complicated methods like QoS.  You decide whether Microsoft 365 is more important than social media.

The visibility of what is happening in your network is at your fingertips and you can make real-time changes without having to be deeply technical or having to log a ticket with a supplier and wait for it to resolved.

Standing up a site is fast, I mean really fast. As soon as a site has an access pipe of any type, you can set up an edge device and bring the site online in minutes.

You may start a site with 4G or an available DSL service. When another access pipe arrives you just plug it in and the network will instantly absorb it.

You won't find each of these benefits across all SD-WAN providers' solutions, but they're the sum of what the technology can do at its very best.

We're entering a stage of ‘hybrid networking', where traditional networks will live in sync with SD-WAN, but make no mistake about it, the latter is here to stay and will be the fastest growing component of business networks across the ANZ region for years to come.