May 26, 2015
Prior to being an analyst, I spent many years as a network engineer. During this time I realized how hard it was to get the attention of CIOs and other IT leaders. Most CIOs have application development or even compute experience, but few have a good understanding of how the network operates. Sometimes I find this unsettling, given how important the network is to the business.
Because of this gap in network knowledge of today’s IT even among business leaders, it may be hard to get their attention to get funding to make the shift to a Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN). Most non-networking people find the network intimidating and difficult to understand, and now the industry has thrown more letters into the alphabet soup that is the network, making it even harder to understand. This raises the question: how can Network Operations get the attention of the senior people in an organization?
One of the ways to do this is by tying the evolution of the WAN to something that every IT and business leader cares about. I believe business continuity can be one of these unifying topics that every leader — business or IT — is concerned with. I also think that SD-WAN can bring a level of resiliency to the network that it traditionally has not had.
Business continuity and disaster recovery are funny things. I’ve been part of many BCDR teams in my IT days and my one take away from my years of experience is that every company, large and small, is great at business continuity planning. However, almost every company, large and small, is equally bad at executing on those plans. In fact, even now when I talk to IT departments about this, I’m actually more surprised to hear that business continuity planning went well.
Once of the challenges in business continuity planning is creating network resiliency. The high cost of MPLS has been well documented on this site as well as many others, and building an overlay MPLS network just for redundancy purposes is certainly cost prohibitive. Also, in some cases, the primary network connection fails because of a physical issue such as cables getting cut, or some kind of facilities issues. Multiple MPLS connections from two different carriers can help keep the network running when there is a service provider outage, but won’t do much when there is a wiring problem.
One solution to this is to have the different circuits come into the building at different spots, but this won’t protect against a cable cut down the road. However, using multi-path technology with some kind of broadband, or wireless 3G/4G, or even satellite service certainly can protect against a physical outage.
A cable modem is different infrastructure and different cabling so it protects against some physical issues, although certainly not all of them. A wireless connection requires no cable pulls so there’s no concern of cut fiber or a facilities outage in the building. Each medium has its strengths and weaknesses but at any given time at least one of these connectivity types is likely to be active.
A SD-WAN with multi-path technology would allow a business to simultaneously use wireless, cable broadband and a private IP service together to create a highly reliable, redundant network fabric that can dynamically adjust to almost any kind of outage. I would certainly advocate dumping the MPLS connection in favor of multiple Internet pipes but I also know that not everyone is ready to do that yet.
So, if you’re reading this and you’re trying to get some funding to start experimenting with SD-WANs, try tying the justification for the shift to be about improving your organizations business continuity posture. Failure in a time of disaster can be embarrassing and cost an organization millions of dollars an hour. The relative investment in networking technology compared to an outage is peanuts so this maybe a good place to get funding from. The role of the network is growing in importance and it needs to be there for the company to operate. That’s a simple enough argument that even a business leader can understand it!