Today’s enterprises are growing increasingly digital, with companies adding new applications to boost productivity, reduce costs and meet the growing demand of their employees and customers for the latest and greatest functionality. This form of digital transformation, the so-called applications era, is creating tremendous pressure on enterprises and service providers alike to deliver the tools users need with the quality of experience (QoE) that they have come to expect.
Network performance is key to the application user experience. CIOs and IT leaders need the ability to dynamically orchestrate the performance and user experience of any and every application in real time, regardless of the size of their network, the number and location of sites, or the number of users. A new network strategy is required to leverage the potential of digital transformation - and an SD-WAN is emerging as a key business requirement. To find success and deliver on their key business goals, enterprises need to protect and control the user experience for all business-critical applications over the emerging hybrid network.
There are specific problems that can be seen across enterprises in all industries - from retail to banking to transportation - when it comes to their networks. To be an agile enterprise, a business needs an agile IT foundation and, in many cases, the network is often the least-agile IT component. Five common network pain points found across enterprises of all types are:
An unpredictable application environment, with new applications being added daily by users, with or without the permission of IT (shadow IT)
The inability of the network to deliver consistent application performance that maps back to business goals, for example, ensuring one business-critical application such as Skype for Business is always on
A lack of visibility into how much bandwidth specific applications consume and how well they are performing
The inability to most efficiently route traffic between links to optimize bandwidth, cost and performance for applications hosted in the cloud or on-premises
Performance problems with specific applications such as Office 365, Skype for Business, a customer relationship management (CRM) system, unified communications, SAP solutions, Salesforce, point-of-sale (PoS) systems in retail, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and other industry-specific applications that may be a critical part of an enterprise’s day-to-day operations
SD-WAN, or SD-WAN as a service, brings to enterprises the same level of agility across the network environment - it helps level the playing field, so to speak, providing better awareness and visibility of the myriad networks, locations and applications by layering over connectivity solutions already in place and providing a central point for orchestrating network and application performance. However, awareness isn’t enough. There are five key requirements of an application-aware SD-WAN that will help companies realize its full benefits:
Visibility - It’s impossible for network engineers to manage what they can’t see. In today’s application-centric world, applications are being introduced at the speed of business, oftentimes in a shadow IT environment where employees take it upon themselves to introduce new resources and applications into the mix without the knowledge or permission of IT. SD-WAN gives enterprise IT managers end-to-end visibility over individual application flows and from the 10,000-foot-view for SLA performance management, so they can see what applications are being used, when, and by whom, and better understand what types of issues are occurring and why.
Control - This is often the missing link in SD-WAN. Many SD-WAN solutions have visibility, but few offer the ability to have control over the network and applications. Enterprises need more granular control of where and under what circumstances an application transaction uses a specific service - to move specific traffic when they need to, optimize it when they need to, apply different techniques to different applications and links, and so on. The only reliable, consistent way to deliver control is via an end-to-end quality of service (QoS) capability; control delivered via other means will fail to provide the required QoE businesses demand. Control has become a significant differentiator in SD-WAN solutions, allowing enterprises to protect business-critical application performance down to each specific application flow, gaining the ability to consistently deliver QoE.
Dynamic path selection - The control ability also plays into another key component for SD-WAN - dynamic path selection. The ability to route mission-critical traffic - such as a quarterly earnings webinar - over a high-value MPLS network for a certain period of time, while kicking lower-priority traffic over to a lower-value network, is key. The ability to dynamically adjust application flows based on real-time network conditions so those high-value apps don’t suffer in the middle of the transmission is also critical. Dynamic path selection is particularly important for multi-networked branch offices, selecting in real-time the best path for high-priority applications according to real-time performance and application traffic characteristics.
Security - In the era of cloud, an increasing amount of applications are moving off corporate premises and more BYOD applications are coming in. The overwhelming majority of security spend in enterprises is still on the network perimeter, and experts concur more needs to shift to protecting the internal networks, especially when they have visibility from SD-WAN solutions. Much like the difficulty in managing what you can’t see, it’s impossible to protect what you can’t see. Security in SD-WAN is standardized over the entire network, bringing a new level of security control to enterprises.
WAN optimization - This is one of the early elements of SD-WAN, and is considered table stakes for SD-WAN solutions. However, its value shouldn’t be underestimated. In a SD-WAN environment, WAN optimization is key to QoE, helping smooth out the ups and downs of broadband connectivity, providing a more consistent user experience. It also helps optimize bandwidth resources via compression and deduplication techniques.
In today’s application-rich environment, the user’s quality of experience - the perception users have regarding the services they use that are delivered across a network - is growing increasingly critical. SD-WAN is helping enterprises overcome their biggest pain points and deliver the consistent QoE that users expect.