Just when you thought you’d got to grips with the never-ending list of networking acronyms; another appears.
An SD WAN is a ‘Software Defined Wide Area Network’ – and it’s an acronym that it’s worth getting familiar with, as tens of thousands of international companies are using the tech to accelerate their international growth.
We’ll take a look at how the tech works and what it can offer growing businesses.
WAN vs SD WAN
Since an IT network is something many of us take for granted, it’s worth getting a quick overview of how most multi-site companies currently manage their IT infrastructure.
Generally speaking, an organisation’s IT will have a central location and a series of branch locations. For example, your HQ might be in the UK, but you’ve got branches in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Paris. In this situation, your central IT provision in London will house servers that carry your applications, email service, and a handful of other tools that the rest of your branch staff rely on.
Needless to say, the bulk of (if not all of) your IT staff will be based at this central location. If something goes wrong or needs adjusting at a branch site, you’ll need IT staff on-site, or you’ll need your team to travel to the location to put things right.
It’s also worth considering how each of these sites are connected. Again, generally speaking, each site will have an internet circuit connection and data will be transferred over a virtual private network (VPN). The cost and maintenance of such connections is often sizable – but working over general broadband or cellular connections won’t deliver the manageability, speed, or security that’s required to keep your data safe.
How does SD WAN change this?
To get to grips with what SD WAN is, it’s important to understand how the tech works. In effect, it’s a network overlay – a piece of software that controls your network devices and the connections between devices.
You could be forgiven for thinking this sounds like an MPLS system. At this stage, SD WAN isn’t going to replace an expensive MPLS system – as its functions are a little different. Where MPLS allows you to micromanage your how traffic from each application is handled, SD WAN offers a broader set of tools. You can’t manage data on a granular level – but you will have some class of service options, as well as options around the types of connection you’re using to carry data.
Well, perhaps one of the most significant things for international companies is the true centralisation of all IT provisions.
Taking the example network from above, the business in question would need to employ IT staff at each location to keep their lights on – simply because there are times where there’s just no substitute for having ‘hands on’ a piece of equipment. With SD WAN, this need is mitigated – as the software controls will allow you to access everything setting you’d be able to access if you had the device in your hands, physical switches included.
Clearly this allows for enormous employee savings – and means you don’t necessarily have to work alongside different service providers at your different locations. In terms of quick business growth, this is invaluable. As long as someone can plug your devices in, your central team can access and control them seconds later.
Any IT decision maker will be able to tell you about the eye-wateringly large costs that are associated with the dedicated internet circuits that many international businesses rely on to safely carry their data.
The trouble is, there’s generally been no alternative to these connections. Recent privacy laws have made data security requirements stricter than ever before – and quite frankly, no company wants to face the implications of losing data. So, VPN protected tunnels across dedicated internet connections has been the only way to go.
As well as coming with big price tags, these types of connection tend to take a long time to set up – it’s not uncommon to be waiting 8-12 weeks, and that’s without any difficulties working with foreign providers or working with property owners in other countries.
With SD WAN, this headache is removed almost entirely. Since SD WAN allows you to control the way your devices communicate with one another, usually with an in-built security provision, it’s perfectly reasonable to connect those devices across normal broadband internet connections – or even cellular connections.
As a result, you can bring your branches online almost instantaneously, especially if you’re happy to look at SIM-powered rapid deployment options.
SD WAN and business growth
With these things in mind, it’s apparent that SD WAN can offer incredible opportunities for companies who are looking to spread their wings internationally.
If you’re worried about the headaches and cost that you’d normally expect when trying to get dedicated internet circuits in place in time for branch launches – SD WAN removes the problem. What’s more, you’ll also save a lot of money by optimising broadband connections rather than creating dedicated VPN circuits.
Maintenance becomes less of a problem too, instead of relying on providers that are geographically close to your branches, you can give your own in-house IT team or one central managed service provider the ability to roll up their sleeves and work on keeping your systems working.
It’s worth considering the implications of this for downtime too. Downtime is estimated to cost businesses upward of $5,000 per minute – and that figure can quickly increase depending on the size of your company. Lost productivity is one thing – but when you factor in lost potential business, significant downtime starts to look like a problem that can permanently close a company’s doors.
SD WAN helps you to remove the possibility of downtime – firstly, because it allows you to switch between connection types quickly and fairly painless – but secondly because your IT team can quickly access, diagnose, and solve problems with devices and users – even if they’re on the other side of the planet.