Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Friday, November 24, 2017
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Overcoming SD-WAN FUD 

(Supphachai Salaeman/Shutterstock)

 When a promising new technology emerges, the initial excitement is soon over-shadowed by anxiety about taking on something new.

SD-WAN is one such technology that has many CIOs on the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) fence. Yet, viewed within Gartner Group’s “Hype Cycle,” SD-WAN is expected to reach the “Plateau of Productivity” in only a few years. Forward looking enterprises should start moving to this emerging technology now to avoid playing catch-up with their more agile competitors later.

If it Isn’t Broken…

As enterprise bandwidth demands continue to grow, it is becoming prohibitively expensive to keep adding more dedicated network capacity for their private WAN. On the other hand, security and reliability concerns are increasing within the public Internet, which is not fit for business-critical applications. And as technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning and real-time data analytics become widely adopted, network congestion will worsen.

More CIOs are realising the benefits of hybrid enterprise networks, which combine the scalability of the public Internet with the reliability and security of a private WAN. These hybrid networks and SD-WANs are a perfect match.

One benefit of SD-WAN is that it enables users to do more with existing bandwidth by giving CIOs control over how traffic is routed – either over the Internet or the private network - and how bandwidth is allocated for different applications. This ensures that cloud-based unified communication and collaboration applications deliver a seamless experience both over low-bandwidth instant messaging and data-hungry video.

Furthermore, thanks to its virtualised functions, SD-WAN enables a pay-as-you-go approach to global networking, enabling the CIO to scale capacity up and down depending on fluctuations in market conditions and business needs. For example, in the run-up to the holiday season a global online retailer can use SD-WAN to add bandwidth and circuits.

SD-WAN gives the CIO unprecedented freedom to deploy new applications across the enterprise, and complete visibility and control over each application. This not only enhances the user experience as a result of minimized network congestion, it also empowers the enterprise to expand into new markets more easily and launch new services more quickly, with their network as the digital foundation for growth.

Nobody Wants to Be the Guinea Pig…

Rolling out a nascent technology can come with certain risk and surprises, including unanticipated or even hidden costs.

The best, least daunting and least risky approach is to start with a small implementation. Of course, the CIO should ask the SD-WAN supplier for case studies and customer references to get insights into how the specific solution has performed in the real world, and to help avoid potential pitfalls with the deployment.

To keep the budget in check, the CIO should work hand-in-glove with the SD-WAN provider to plan the circuit design and associated costs. This includes forecasting for any areas such as connectivity, capacity or equipment which might require extra spend.

Still, the beauty of SD-WAN is that it reduces the need for hardware significantly, which in turn reduces costs. There is also often scope to use the enterprise’s existing IP router footprint for some of the SD-WAN deployment, rather than a costly rip-and-replace approach.

The benefits that SD-WAN can bring to hybrid enterprise networks should outweigh any uncertainty that CIOs might feel. As more SD-WAN platforms become available, the cost of adopting this technology will become more attractive for CIOs looking to future-proof their network, too.

All of these changes to the network set-up can be automated with SD-WAN, enabling the CIO to orchestrate the different moving parts of the enterprise network with simplicity and security. As the break-neck speed of technology innovation continues and as SD-WAN moves towards the Plateau of Productivity, even risk-averse enterprises should recognise the business and technology benefits it brings and take the leap before their competitors beat them to it.

Bob Laskey is head of Americas, Tata Communications.

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