How the Software-Defined WAN Reduces Costs and Complexity: Part 1

In our last post, we discussed how growing volumes of WAN traffic are creating application performance problems. Organizations are using the WAN to support real-time applications such as voice and video, and to provide access to cloud computing services and mission-critical applications. When WAN performance slows to a crawl, business communications, remote worker productivity and customer service suffer.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply add bandwidth. Organizations must optimize WAN traffic to make the most of the bandwidth they have. Our last post focused on traditional WAN optimization tools, which use traffic shaping, data reduction, caching and protocol optimization to increase the efficiency of data transmissions. These tools can help improve WAN performance — but don’t go far enough.

Traditional WAN architectures involve carrier MPLS connections from each branch office to the data center, with Internet traffic backhauled over the private WAN to the data center’s high-speed Internet access link. This model made sense when most business applications and data resided in the data center and the Internet was used primarily for web browsing and email. However, dramatic increase in web traffic have made this design costly and inefficient.

As a result, more and more organizations are using a combination of broadband and MPLS services for branch office connectivity. Broadband can reduce WAN costs dramatically, but doesn’t provide the Quality of Service needed for mission-critical applications and latency-sensitive services. A hybrid WAN architecture routes these applications and services over the MPLS connection while relying on broadband for all other traffic.

This requires visibility into which data is associated with which application and the ability to route traffic automatically across the hybrid network in real time. Software-defined networking (SDN) technologies are ideally suited to these tasks, leading to the emergence of the software-defined WAN (SD-WAN).

SD-WANs leverage hybrid WANs, but incorporate a centralized, application-based policy controller, analytics for application and network visibility, a software overlay that abstracts underlying networks, and an optional SD-WAN forwarder (routing capability). This architecture delivers a number of benefits:

  • It cuts costs by enabling organizations to rely primarily upon broadband as opposed to more expensive MPLS links. SD-WAN is intelligent enough to know when broadband won’t provide an adequate connection and reroutes traffic to MPLS as needed.
  • It increases WAN agility by enabling policy-based configuration and control through software. Routing is based upon the current state of the network, providing the flexibility to adapt to changing network conditions.
  • It improves network security by providing visibility into traffic traversing the WAN. It also enables organizations to segment the network, encrypt WAN traffic and secure direct Internet access from branch locations.
  • It reduces the “branch stack” by virtualizing network services. Rather than requiring IT to manage a number of appliances to provide WAN functions, SD-WAN brings these functions to one device that can be centrally managed and deployed on demand.

Although the SD-WAN market is in its infancy, it’s already seeing strong interest. IDC recently conducted an extensive worldwide survey and found that “consistent security,” “price,” and “reduced complexity” were the top three motivators identified by respondents considering SD-WAN adoption. Contact IPC to discuss how a consolidated, centrally managed and application-aware WAN platform can benefit your organization.