Industry experts are expecting a “radical shift” this year as organizations toss their edge routers and opt instead for software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN).

Gartner estimates that “by 2020, more than 50 per cent of WAN edge infrastructure refresh initiatives will be based on SD-WAN.” Organizations are increasingly moving their applications to one or more clouds, a scenario that hasn’t proven to work well with conventional router-based networks. An SD-WAN uses software and a centralized control function to intelligently steer traffic across the WAN.

Central control takes the complexity out of it, said Colin Boland, a Cisco Systems Engineer said at a recent ITWC webinar. “It enables the efficient digital transformation that enterprises are looking for.” Cisco SD-WAN was named a leader in the recently released Gartner Magic Quadrant on WAN Edge Infrastructure.

SD-WANs are easy to operate

As a centralized cloud architecture, an SD-WAN makes it easier and faster to provision and scale across thousands of endpoints, said Boland. A key advantage is that organizations can leverage any combination of transport services, including broadband and Internet, to connect users to applications. “Customers are asking why they should pay for the high cost of MPLS when they can get a fast Internet service like they have at home,” said Boland.

The ability to manage all types of networking from a central command means that IT has the ability to do “zero-touch” provisioning and configurations, said Boland.  “Previously, it could take days or weeks to roll trucks,” he said. Now, we can get it up and running in hours.”

It also means that an organization can have real-time visibility and analytics on how the entire network is performing to support the applications. According to Gartner, 30 per cent of organizations say they need better analytics and visibility on the WAN because they spend too much time troubleshooting.  With SD-WAN, all of the information is available on an easy-to-use dashboard on a “single pane of glass,” said Boland. “With that, we’re able to measure latency, loss, and jitter and steer traffic in real-time to ensure that quality-of-service metrics are met.” Predictive analytics help take the guesswork out of planning for the future by reviewing current trends to predict what will be needed to optimize application performance. “It allows you to make good decisions and be more proactive,” said Boland.

Security is integrated from the start

The changing work environment, where applications are accessed from many locations by workers and third parties, like contractors, creates new security challenges. As well, new approaches are needed to manage the risks associated with increased use of the cloud and the Internet. With SD-WAN, security policies are all centrally controlled, said Boland. “It builds tunnels based on the policies at the head end,” he said. “This is where we make sure we have consistent configuration across all devices, which is much better for audit and compliance.”

This way, security is built into the network and not “bolted-on afterwards,” said Boland.  “Everything is visible on the dashboard. Central control just makes everything a lot simpler.”

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