Published on September 14, 2020
If you ask any executive which network technology will have the most impact on their company’s future, you’ll probably hear about 5G or cloud computing. However, the real answer might really be SD-WAN, an under-recognized network solution that is more essential to responding to the needs of a growing business.
A lot of noise is being made about SD-WAN, or software-defined wide area network. Which is normal—for many companies launching a geographic expansion, it’s a relatively flexible and affordable way to ensure their computer network can keep pace. An SD-WAN solution is a way of creating a single, large unified virtual network using various separate local networks, with the help of specially selected software tools.
SD-WAN: A virtual Swiss army knife
This is the Swiss army knife often brought out by Internet service providers or integrators who don’t have backbone networks, since it can allow your company to function as if all your employees were located at the same address, even if in reality they’re spread across many offices throughout the province, or even around the world.
Being a software solution, an SD-WAN network can be based on one or a number of infrastructure types: fibre optic, cable, LTE… even 5G. Although in the case of wireless, it is generally used as a backup installation for business continuity or for temporary needs, for example to extend access to the company network or applications to an external site until such time as a wired connection can be installed to complete the network.
For growing companies, SD-WAN enables the rapid addition of new sites to the company network, in mere moments, without having to worry about having an Internet access provider for every location. As a bonus, this solution optimizes the sharing of the entire network’s bandwidth, which significantly raises the quality of service for all users.
In this sense, it’s a more versatile tool than an MPLS network, which is a more robust networking solution, but is often more costly to deploy, especially when network access is in areas with a variety of providers.
The advantages of an SD-WAN solution
Many IT experts compare MPLS infrastructure with an SD-WAN solution when it comes to deploying a company-wide network. Both technologies are competitive and complementary—it’s not unthinkable that a company would add an SD-WAN layer to its MPLS network, which will bring flexibility to the way it extends and manages its network infrastructure. This approach permits the best of both worlds: a robust, reliable infrastructure supplemented with a very effective backup plan for business continuity.
This flexibility is one of SD-WAN’s advantages. Since it’s a software tool, it’s easy and quick to configure a new network connection. It’s also less costly than a more traditional physical infrastructure
Management is centralized, but can be accessed from anywhere, which allows its parameters to be modified as needed. Thus, an IT manager can track the use of bandwidth in real time, and optimize it as a result, thereby improving the experience for all users. It’s also possible to provide privileged access to select cloud applications.
Company leaders will also like the fact that investing in SD-WAN infrastructure is easier to adjust as internal operations evolve, and therefore it has less impact on the company’s capital and operating expenses.
Digital transformation, IoT, remote work… and SD-WAN?
The acceleration of many industries’ digital transformations in recent months has pushed several companies to modernize their IT operations. Mostly this has involved transferring part of their internal tools to web servers or cloud-based platforms. In the same vein, we’ve seen a shift towards remote work, which could become more permanent and pervasive than anyone could have imagined six months ago
These two trends have an immediate effect on the way in which your organization uses its internal network, which could prompt you to revisit the way it’s managed. You might be led to consider whether this is an opportunity for investing in SD-WAN.
However, according to Pascal Allard, Senior Director CSE and Product Development at Fibrenoire, this isn’t quite the right question you should be asking. “You don’t opt for SD-WAN infrastructure just because you’re extending access for remote workers, but rather because of a significant change in the way you’re using the company network which requires revisiting the security of your computing facilities and users. That is what could influence your choice of an SD-WAN provider,” he explains.
The same applies for companies looking to automate their operations, entirely or partially, or who want to take advantage of connected objects at the company (the infamous “Internet of Things,” or industrial IoT), adds the network expert. “Choosing the right SD-WAN technology can bring concrete benefits in this context. For example, it could be suitable for a farmer who wants to install sensors in their fields at various locations,” he explains.
SD-WAN solutions aren’t all the same
Not all SD-WAN solutions were born equal. Depending on who developed it, a particular solution may be more favourable to access by applications. Some SD-WAN solutions, for example, facilitate access to the Office365 Suite, Azure, AWS, and other SaaS platforms. Other providers have integrated a hub for other types of applications into their SD-WAN solutions in order to differentiate themselves from the competition. And still others have been optimized for security.
In short, the nature of your company’s digital activities will influence your choice of which solution is best. Since these activities vary from one company to the next, an Internet service provider and managed service provider like Fibrenoire will offera variety of SD-WAN solutions and security, and will provide guidance to businesses in order to find the solution that is best adapted to their needs.
It’s a decision that needs to be made with care, since costs vary widely from one solution to the next. You also need to think about securing your company network separately. SD-WAN networks are encrypted, but management of external traffic and security threats like malware and phishing are generally not handled natively. After all, this software tool is primarily focused on creating a fast, affordable virtual business network.
“Above all, what you need to remember is that it’s actually about finding a balance between the client’s needs and the possibilities offered by SD-WAN technology that will make all the difference when it comes to distinguishing between solutions offered by particular suppliers,” summarizes Maude Francoeur, a Client Network Specialist at Fibrenoire. “In short, when it comes to SD-WAN, since there’s no ‘one size fits all’ option, you need to choose a solution adapted to your particular needs.”
To discover: our SD-WAN service