The technological revolution in business continues apace. A huge range of technologies have become integral to the way businesses operate, and this dependence on tech is growing all the time. Those firms which fail to keep up with the accelerating pace of technological change – and the changing expectations of their clients and customers – risk falling behind their competitors.
Recent years have seen software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) products make a real leap forward. The advantages of SD-WAN are already well documented. More cost-effective and flexible than legacy router-centric multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) WANs, SD-WAN offers superior responsiveness, enhanced application performance, more robust security, and improved visibility. All that facilitates greater reliability and consistency and enables organizations to advance their cloud and digital transformation initiatives.
SD-WAN offers a plethora of other benefits, too. By minimizing or even eliminating the ramifications of network disruption, it can make VoIP phone systems perform much more effectively. VoIP calls (whether outbound or inbound calls to your business phone number) are, as a result, consistently clearer and less jittery. Considering the widespread use of VoIP technology in the business world, this can make a huge difference to the way firms function.
But despite all this, too many organizations are still failing to take full advantage of the new generation of SD-WAN technology. In some cases, this is because they still have a limited understanding of SD-WAN. In others, it’s because they’re wary of trying something new. As a result, SD-WAN technology has a range of highly useful features which are still going overlooked or underused. Here, we’ll take a closer look at some of them.
1. Multiplexed VPNs
It’s generally the case in reasonably large organizations that there are multiple subdivisions and departments. Sometimes, that may be as a result of a merger or acquisition, where a previously independent business is incorporated into a wider firm but continues to operate as its own distinct unit. On other occasions, departments have distinct functions so operate autonomously.
For security and confidentiality reasons (for example in the case of HR software), it may be safest to keep certain departments’ traffic running separately from one another. SD-WAN allows organizations to segment applications without forcing them to purchase separate physical devices.
Through SD-WAN, virtual routing and forwarding (VRF) is often possible. VPN links can also be multiplexed via a single overlay. This allows complex, multifaceted organizations to segment and isolate traffic simply by setting the appropriate policies.
Microsegmentation enhances network security by restricting hackers’ lateral movement in the event of a breach. As a result, it’s become increasingly widely deployed by enterprises over the last few years. It provides firms with improved control over east-west traffic and helps to keep applications running in the cloud or in data center-type environments more secure.
SD-WAN overlays allow for easier microsegmentation. That enables centrally defined policies to take automatic action to isolate affected branches from the wider network where a security breach is found to have occurred.
3. Cloud breakout
Another key feature of SD-WAN technology is cloud breakout. In a nutshell, this allows you to connect branch office users to cloud-hosted applications directly and securely, eliminating the inefficiencies of backhauling cloud-destined traffic through the data center. Given the ever-growing importance of SaaS and IaaS services, efficient and reliable access to the cloud is crucial for many businesses and other organizations. By simplifying the way in which branch traffic is routed, SD-WAN also makes it quicker and easier to set up breakouts.
4. Flexible bandwidth allocation
It’s hard to believe, but even now, many organizations continue to configure bandwidth allocation for each individual application. It goes without saying that this can be a hugely time-consuming (not to mention tedious) business. It ties up resources and energies that would probably be better used elsewhere.
SD-WAN offers flexible bandwidth allocation so that you don’t have to go through the hassle of manually allocating bandwidth for specific applications. Instead, SD-WAN allows you to classify applications into particular groups, and then specify a particular service level requirement for them. In this way, you can ensure your set-up is better equipped to run smoothly, minimizing the risk of glitchy and delayed performance on an audio conference call, and so on.
5. Encryption key rotation
Data security has never been a more important consideration than it is today. It’s therefore incumbent upon businesses and other organizations to take robust measures to keep data and information safely under lock and key. Encryption keys must get rotated regularly (every 90 days is the standard interval) to reduce the risk of your data security being compromised.
However, standard VPN-based encryption key rotation can be a complicated and disruptive process, often even requiring downtime. SD-WAN can offer automated key rotation, allowing network administrators to pre-program rotations without the need for either manual intervention or system downtime.
6. Zero-touch provisioning
All too often, installing networking equipment and getting it up and running can be a time-consuming headache. Traditionally, it requires manual configuration, testing and installation, all from scratch and for each location across the network. For organizations with 10s, 100s or even 1000s of sites, this can be particularly resource-sapping.
However, SD-WAN offers zero-touch provisioning (most devices provide this as a standard out-of-the-box feature) so that you don’t have to go to the trouble of manually configuring each device at each location. So long as it has an active internet connection, an SD-WAN device will be able to obtain the relevant predetermined network templates and settings to configure itself.
7. Enhanced data analytics
Data analytics are vital for a number of purposes, including ensuring network reliability and determining capacity. SD-WAN offers improved analytics and thus provides new, more finely grained insights into how your network is performing overall. It provides an exceptional breadth of traffic data which you can use, via your chosen assessment tools, to examine performance in a much more detailed way than previously possible. This data and the insights it contains also enables your organization to distribute network resources in more efficient ways. In addition, it allows for greater accountability and clarity about how your network is performing. This can help you keep your clients better informed and provide even better customer support.
8. Service chaining
Service chaining through SD-WAN allows organizations to reroute their data traffic through one service or multiple services, including intrusion detection and prevention devices or cloud-based security services. It thereby enables firms to declutter their branch office networks.
They can, after all, automate how particular types of traffic flows are handled and assemble connected network services into a single chain. As well as cutting down on manpower requirements and saving resources, service chaining also greatly simplifies maintenance and troubleshooting.