SD-WAN: The Backbone of Digital Transformation

By: Ed Fox

Some version of this statement is everywhere you turn these days: “Cloud computing, 5G, mobility, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) are transforming the ways we work, collaborate and live.” There’s a good reason we hear it everywhere: it’s true. These technologies are radically reshaping not only the way we do business but also the world we live in.

While these technologies often dominate headlines, however, software-defined networking (SD-WAN) is the unsung hero in the background enabling and consuming all these technologies. In much the same way virtualization has fundamentally changed the data center for cloud computing, SD-WAN is the backbone of digital transformation. It’s playing an indispensable role in transforming and securing corporate networks.

Doing any type of business in 2020 requires higher bandwidth, faster speeds and secure connections. These demands are growing at an exponential rate that is far exceeding the capabilities of many companies. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores how important this is as the crisis has forced companies to test the limits of mobility while maintaining secure connections. Another imperative COVID-19 has thrust into the foreground is long-term cost efficiency ascompanies look to invest in solutions that offer them flexibility, reliability and savings in times of economic turbulence—something SD-WAN is uniquely positioned to do.

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 deployment can empower any number of business operations in innovative ways and give companies the tools to navigate extraordinary circumstances.  

If you pull back the curtain on any successful digital transformation, chances are you’ll find an SD-WAN element in play. And with the mass proliferation of IoT-enabled devices in combination with 5G on the horizon and edge computing all the rage, SD-WAN deployment is only set to accelerate. I expect to see an explosion of SD-WAN deployments in the future.

The importance of SD-WAN to digital transformation

Let’s start at the beginning. 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 and software. It’s an extremely customized, fragile operation with any changes requiring lots of time, work and costs to support and maintain.

SD-WAN completely wipes the slate clean by virtualizing this infrastructure piece by piece. With SD-WAN, software rather than hardware manages the network and all its connections. This means you can implement major changes more quickly and cheaply while exerting total control over how that network runs. You can introduce automation, orchestrations and security in ways that weren’t possible before. You will gain an entirely new way of looking at your network: with a view through data, with visibility into applications and network traffic. This will be critical as 5G will bring yet-to-be-developed-applications from theory into reality. SD-WAN future-proofs your network against the innovations to come.

The combination of IoT and 5G will be a major test for companies, bringing an unprecedented number of devices, applications and data volume to bear on their networks. Asking the right questions and knowing what to look for will be crucial to success in deploying SD-WAN and for a implementing a successful digital transformation plan.

As powerful as SD-WAN is, companies considering a deployment need to review several factors to determine if they’re in a proper stage of their own digital transformation. Starting from the right place will allow them to realize the numerous benefits. The following are six key factors companies need to consider when deciding whether to deploy SD-WAN.

Geographic need

If you’re a single-location organization, SD-WAN can be a powerful tool to help you overcome many of the barriers traditional networks face and mitigate anomalies in best effort networks. More importantly, organizations with multiple locations, disparate legacy systems, interoperability issues and multiple regional vendors will gain greater control. SD-WAN allows for flexibility, enabling individual locations to add new applications and services and gain operational efficiencies without having to rip and replace existing infrastructure.


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