National Principal Architect
  • IT Infrastructure
Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions are intriguing, and the technology continues to gain buzz in the marketplace. And it only makes sense that it would. After all, SD-WAN offers to simplify WAN operations, to improve application performance, and to lower costs—which are all important goals for organizations seeking to leverage IT for new and better ways to serve their customers.

Doing business today is all about the customer—and customer experience, whether you’re selling directly to the consumer or to other businesses. It’s like the age old saying, “Give the customer a great experience and they will come back.” That’s always been true in business. But the definition of a great experience is much different than it used to be. With higher customer expectations, and the competition just one click away, providing an excellent customer experience has never been more important to business results than it is today.

Here's an example: Imagine walking in to your local bank branch needing assistance with a loan.  You are informed the service you require is not available locally, but rather at a branch that is 45 minutes away.  After losing nearly two hours of your day, you may reconsider if this bank is right for you.  In contrast, consider if that same bank had a WAN capable of supporting a virtual expert service where you could interact with a loan officer via high definition video, getting what you need done right there in the local branch, and saving you two hours.  This kind of improved customer experience drives brand loyalty.

Regardless of the industry your company is in, customer experience is essential to differentiating your company in the marketplace. Your customers have choices, and they will buy from companies that provide the best experience. Delivering a better customer experience requires making changes to the business—and IT infrastructure operation and management is one of them.

Becoming More Application Aware

As customer expectations become more demanding, businesses must become more agile, not only responding quickly to changes in market dynamics and customer preferences but also anticipating what customers will want next. Doing that requires embracing mobile capabilities, integrating with public cloud environments, and deploying new applications and services— all of that demands an infrastructure that is flexible and application-centric.

Virtualization technology and software-defined networking (SDN) has transformed the way CPU, storage, and networking components are provisioned within the data center. Computing environments are no longer tied directly to physical devices, which makes better use of available resources and enables changes to be made quickly. Application policies can be created and changed to align with business priorities. Thus, new computing environments can be instantiated and operate as business needs dictate based on policy-driven criteria. As a result, the data center infrastructure can adjust dynamically as it is more application aware.

SDN has changed the way data center networks are built, allowing configuration to shift from a device-centric model to an application and policy-centric model. But SDN impacts networking inside the data center; it has no impact on the way remote users access applications via the cloud or WAN. How can you make the WAN more elastic, cloud ready, and policy-driven like the data center network? That’s where SD-WAN comes in.

Similar Purpose, But Different

SD-WAN and SDN have a similar strategic purpose, but the two are not one and the same. Both terms refer to orchestrating network infrastructure based on business intent and IT policies, as opposed manually configuring devices independently, that align more closely with virtualization and cloud. SDN is a more general term, referring to an overall software-defined architecture approach, and applies only to networking within the data center.

SD-WAN refers to edge technology that extends the concepts of SDN to the WAN. It simplifies WAN management and improves visibility as well as flexibility. Deploying SD-WAN enables efficient use of multiple links—such as Internet, MPLS, and LTE—in many cases lowering costs in the process. Load sharing occurs across available connections (based on application policy), and traffic can be routed across lower price links, in a way never possible before, which is where cost savings becomes relevant. Policy and features can be managed from a central location, enabling network changes at branch offices and remote sites (which once took months) to be performed in a matter of minutes.

In addition, SD-WAN technology delivers better application performance via policy-based definitions. With SD-WAN, network managers have the ability to create application policies aligned with business intent and manage resources (such as bandwidth and path selection), ensuring applications receive the resources required for maximum performance.

Internal and external customers are driving the need for new applications and integration with public cloud services. Both SD-WAN and SDN help organizations make the shift from a device-centric IT management to a business outcome focused, application-centric, model that will better satisfy those needs.

Today, SD-WAN and SDN are implemented separately, utilizing two different sets of policy definitions to operate. That will change over time, and the two will converge and function based on a common set of policies. But until then, organizations should evaluate one solution set while keeping in mind the requirements of the other. Doing so will ensure the two are as compatible as possible, making integration easier when that day arrives.

For more information on how ePlus can help you lower costs and deliver better customer experiences using SD-WAN, click here to get in touch with us or contact your ePlus Account Executive. 

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