There’s a common misperception that software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is only for large enterprises. SD-WAN, however, addresses some of SMBs' most pressing needs: limitations in IT staffing and insufficient funding for IT investments. With lower total cost of ownership and centralized management, SD-WAN just might be the answer for organizations looking to transform their networks.
It’s also an excellent managed service opportunity for the channel.
SD-WAN technology abstracts management from physical devices, simplifying administration and reducing the time spent on routine manual tasks. IT productivity skyrockets, freeing up customer teams to focus on strategic initiatives such as cloud migration, mobility and Internet of Things. It’s a boon for distributed companies. And, because SD-WAN typically substitutes some, or even all, expensive MPLS with lower-cost broadband links, opex savings are realized immediately.
Recent ROI studies have shown compelling value in environments of all sizes.
Possibly the biggest benefit of SD-WAN for SMBs and their partners is the ease and agility with which we can add, change and manage the network from a centralized GUI console. Management software automatically discovers, identifies and configures full-mesh VPN links. Additional bandwidth is easily added to busy sites by bundling multiple links, even of different types. Reliability is enhanced with single-click configurations for redundant links, improving network uptime and avoiding annoying routing loops and other time-consuming troubleshooting issues. Configurations are stored centrally, meaning that new devices can be shipped directly to a remote office, plugged in by any local staff and then zero-touch configuration handles the rest.
Regardless of whether applications are running to centralized servers or directly to cloud services, the GUI-based management tools provide full visibility of all traffic, down to the network port, device and application.
For example, OpenEye Scientific develops large-scale molecular modeling applications and tool kits, aimed toward pharmaceutical design and discovery. The company has five offices around the world and wanted to shift toward offering software as a service (SaaS). Their latest project uses Amazon AWS, and configuring the existing network to support direct-to-cloud activities was taking too long, especially since they did not have a sufficiently experienced internal network resource. Instead, the system administrator and a software developer installed their SD-WAN connection to an AWS virtual private cloud (VPC) in less than an hour.
Compelling TCO for SMBs
Cloud services have revolutionized compute and storage, enabling elasticity, agility and lower costs. The same holds true for SD-WAN-enabled hybrid networks.
Hybrid WANs deliver lower connectivity costs by making the best use of all available bandwidth, improving uptime and delivering opex savings from the use of lower-cost internet links instead of costlier MPLS or other private circuits — though whether SD-WAN will kill MPLS sales is a matter for debate. MSPs will be pleased with improved network uptime thanks to fewer human configuration and command-line interface errors, according to a recent study by Enterprise Management Associates. After all, when the WAN is down, so is business.
Small and midsize businesses need to move fast, effortlessly change directions and rapidly respond to customer needs and market conditions. Remote sites and offices can come and go quickly, as projects progress and resources move. Applications and data are increasingly cloud-based for maximum flexibility and accessibility. Employees, contractors, partners and other stakeholders can't afford to wait long for the IT department to order network connections and make the necessary configuration changes. If they can't get what they need when they need it, they will find workarounds that could put sensitive data and the business at risk.
A carefully selected SD-WAN deployment is a perfect match for these needs. Network connections work over standard internet broadband links that are available in days or hours, or may already be in place. Robust virtual private networking technologies – such as IPSec encryption – and network microsegmentation protect data and application traffic wherever it goes. Tight integration with major cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, and secure internet breakouts to SaaS applications means traffic goes directly from business offices to the cloud, without the configuration and processing delays of going through a centralized data center for inspection.
SD-WAN technology typically embeds security capabilities so there's no need to deploy dedicated security appliances, simplifying branch management. With SD-WAN, every link runs as a VPN with end-to-end encryption. Integrated firewalls apply consistent rules at all locations, and MSPs may deploy location, application or user specific rules as desired.
To make things even easier, cloud-security services, such as Zscaler, deliver complementary security services. A single click enables sandboxing, data loss prevention (DLP) and other security tools. These security services use cloud-compute resources to scale so that they can inspect every byte that flows through the network. Businesses can implement application-aware security policies once and apply those policies to follow each user regardless of where they are.
SimplePay Solutions Group is a payment-applications company that securely processes transactions in multiple currencies and markets through a single platform, to help customers manage the shift to digital payments. Their solution saves customers time on paper invoicing, chasing late payments and reconciling transactions. As they expand to new markets, they use SD-WAN networking to scale their business quickly and efficiently, while continuing to deliver the data integrity, privacy and security that is essential to their success.
Whether driven by improved application performance, enhanced network security or reduced operational expenses, SD-WANs should be the network of choice for your SMB customers.
Gayle Levin is director of solutions marketing at Riverbed Technologies. Previously, she held product marketing and campaign roles at VMware, Oracle and Splunk as well as several startups. Her interests lie in the impact of technology on the way we think and work today.