Software-defined WAN solutions meet new remote work requirements through enhanced connectivity, improved cloud access and better security.
In an era of increasingly decentralized workforces, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) has become crucial for providing remote and mobile users with secure, flexible connectivity to essential applications and services. Analysts report SD-WAN adoption more than doubled over the past year as organizations accelerated efforts to overcome the connectivity limitations of existing network infrastructures.
“Enterprise applications are more distributed than ever, and now because of COVID-19, the users accessing those applications are more distributed too,” said Ajeet Das, IDC research director for Carrier Network Infrastructure. “As organizations look to support a hybrid workforce and cloud-native network architectures, SD-WAN infrastructure has become a critically important technology for enabling flexible, agile and optimized connectivity.
“Enterprises will continue to invest in SD-WAN capabilities for years to come as they look to enable secure connectivity for users to applications no matter where they're hosted.”
With most organizations now supporting mass numbers of remote workers, the cloud has become the dominant method of delivering applications and services to users wherever they are. Most organizations have become highly dependent on communication, collaboration and productivity apps hosted in the cloud. At the same time, however, they may also lean heavily on custom applications, ERP platforms and CRM systems hosted in the company data center.
Traditional WAN architecture is increasingly unsuitable for this type of environment. WANs were designed to connect remote users and branch offices with applications hosted in the company’s data center using MPLS circuits and dedicated leased lines. However, any type of Internet traffic — including cloud access — had to be backhauled from the remote site to the company data center where firewalls and other security measures are deployed.
Backhauling was an acceptable solution when Internet traffic primarily consisted of web browsing and email, but is too slow, complex and costly for users working with cloud-based applications. For example, the delays render real-time voice and video communication applications nearly useless.
Almost half of organizations still using legacy WAN solutions report that they have experienced connectivity issues since shifting to remote work, according to a recent global survey of networking professionals. Respondents say productivity is diminished due to slow application response times and connections are often lost during periods of peak usage.
The SD-WAN Advantage
SD-WAN is ideally suited to address the demands of a remote workforce. By virtualizing network hardware and making it programmable through software, SD-WAN eliminates the need for proprietary hardware and expensive fixed circuits. It also reduces management complexity and does away with backhauling requirements.
A key feature of SD-WAN is its ability to blend multiple transport types, such as MPLS, broadband Internet, cellular and satellite, in an active-active configuration. Software-based intelligence provides automated, policy-driven routing of traffic over the optimal connection. This enables organizations to leverage cost-efficient broadband Internet links and reduce their reliance on expensive MPLS.
That simply would not be possible in a traditional WAN environment. The configurations required to differentiate and segment traffic in the hybrid WAN would have to be applied manually to devices at each location and updated regularly as application profiles and business needs changed.
Intelligent and Adaptable
SD-WAN uses a centralized, application-based policy controller to automate all of that. A software overlay abstracts the underlying networks, using analytics to enable greater application and network visibility. These technologies provide intelligent path selection across WAN links, based on the current state of the network and the application policies defined on the controller.
SD-WAN also helps companies realize the full potential of the cloud. By providing multiple ways to access cloud resources, the technology supports the use of a multi-cloud strategy in which organizations can connect to multiple cloud services providers over a single infrastructure.
Of course, enabling greater cloud access affects cybersecurity by creating dozens or even hundreds of new points of vulnerability. SD-WAN addresses this risk by applying end-to-end encryption and authentication to all traffic. It also serves as the key enabling technology for Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), which consolidates multiple network and security functions such as DNS security, secure web gateways, firewall-as-a-service, cloud access security brokers and threat intelligence into a single cloud-delivered solution.
“We are living through unprecedented times that require enterprises to accelerate the move to an online digital business and support massive growth of remote workers,” said Ghassan Abdo, research vice president, IDC Worldwide Telecom. “SD-WAN is a great choice to support this new digital economy and address the need of a massively distributed and remote work environment.”