Technologies like cloud computing, 5G, mobility, artificial intelligence (AI), and internet of things (IoT)-enabled devices are transforming the ways we work, collaborate and design for the future.
While these technologies often dominate tech news, software-defined networking (SD-WAN) is the unsung hero in the background enabling all these technologies. In much the same way virtualization has fundamentally changed the data center for cloud computing, SD-WAN is transforming corporate networks.
Doing any type of business in 2019 requires higher bandwidth, faster speeds and secure connections, and it’s growing at an exponential rate that is far exceeding the capabilities of many companies. As someone who’s overseen thousands of SD-WAN deployments and is currently working with a leading fintech company to connect their banking clients across the globe, I can tell you that a proper SD-WAN can empower any number of business operations in innovative ways.
If you look at any successful digital transformation, chances are there was an SD-WAN element in play. And with the proliferation of IoT-enabled devices and the advent of 5G on the horizon, I expect to see a lot of SD-WANs in the future.
What Is SD-WAN, And What Do I Need To Look For In An SD-WAN?
Think of a traditional network as a collection of routers, switches, multiplexers and other purpose-built equipment all managed independently by proprietary, internal, purpose-built firmware. It’s an extremely customized, fragile operation with any changes requiring lots of time, work and costs to pull off.
SD-WAN wipes the slate clean by virtualizing all those pieces. Software rather than hardware manages the network and all its connections. In software, you can implement a lot of changes faster and cheaper and exert control over how that network runs. You can introduce automation, orchestrations and security in ways you could never do before. You also gain this whole new way of looking at the network through data with visibility into applications and network traffic. This will be critical as 5G will bring yet-to-be-thought-of applications into reality. SD-WAN is a way of future-proofing what will come to be.
IoT and 5G will test companies, bringing an unprecedented number of devices, applications and data volume to bear on their shoulders. Asking the right questions and knowing what to look for will be critical to success.
Here are four key questions you should ask when considering SD-WAN to help you prepare, along with tips for each one:
1. Do You Have A Geographical Need?
If you’re a single-location organization, SD-WAN can overcome many of the barriers traditional networks face, especially organizations with multiple locations, disparate legacy systems, interoperability issues and multiple regional vendors. SD-WAN can introduce flexibility, allow individual locations to add new applications and services, and reduce operational efficiencies without having to rip and replace existing infrastructure.
Tip: SD-WAN’s primary function is to connect multiple locations that aren’t physically connected. Look for an SD-WAN solution that provides no-touch provisioning so that a technical person isn’t required at every location and that updates and applications can be provisioned remotely without on-premise staff assistance.
2. Is Your Data in the Cloud?
The proliferation and reliance on remotely stored data in the cloud is a game-changer. While SD-WAN was originally designed to connect physical locations, cloud and mobile have upped the ante — opening a whole new avenue to apply SD-WAN solutions and requiring added capabilities at the same time
Tip: When looking at SD-WAN solutions, confirm that you can seamlessly connect to cloud centers and mobile devices. Also, be aware that while network service providers (NSPs) may offer SD-WAN capabilities, make sure you understand what they offer compared to companies that specialize in WAN/SD-WAN offerings, which often include innovative new services and heightened levels of expertise and support.
3. Do You Need Secure, Reliable Connectivity?
Many SD-WAN vendors offer simple security features, but that may not be enough to protect against application-layer attacks. Identifying a vendor that provides advanced security features that can easily be managed is crucial to secure data.
Tip: Your SD-WAN solution should allow administrators to take a layered approach to security, with the ability to monitor activity across the entire network and into the cloud and data center, normalizing all the underlying complexities.
4. Are You Still Trying To Determine An IoT Or 5G Strategy?
There’s little doubt that IoT and 5G will impact the way we interact with our customers. From virtual reality to enabling technologies like artificial intelligence, SD-WAN solutions should be designed to support these disruptive technologies. And while the future of exactly how this technology will revolutionize how we work may still not be fully realized, SD-WAN will play an integral role.
Tip: It’s critical that organizations assess not only current connectivity needs but look for an SD-WAN solution that is easily managed and supports applications across multiple office locations, mobile devices, in the cloud and in the data center.
Disruptive technologies like 5G and IoT will change the way we work and live. At the same time, new technologies can introduce uncertainty to decision making as tech leaders delay purchases. That doesn’t have to be the case. Organizations can benefit from SD-WAN today and ensure a smooth transition tomorrow regardless of what the “next big” technology is, in turn helping companies digitally transform their businesses, increasing efficiencies and improving the customer experience.
This article was originally featured in Forbes.