SD-WAN: Delivering the Highest ‘Quality of Experience’ with Broadband

With the advent of software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), companies can fundamentally rethink their networks and how they connect users to applications.

And not a moment too soon. Users’ expectations have changed in this always-connected era, and they are bringing such expectations into the workplace. It doesn’t take long until they become frustrated with network and application disruptions, slowdowns, and other issues.

Cloud migration is in part to blame, now that organizations are hosting their applications in multiple locations, traditional WAN approaches are quickly falling short.

The ability to connect users to applications by the most efficient and secure means is essential for delivering the highest quality of experience to an increasingly demanding audience.

For many companies, the older generation of router-centric, private-circuit Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) WAN architectures and services are complex and expensive to manage, especially when applications are in different locations, spanning data center and multi-cloud environments.

Businesses as well as their customers want higher application performance and lower costs – without compromising security.

The Rise of Broadband

Economical consumer broadband connectivity is quickly gaining favor as an efficient, low-cost means to connect to applications and network services over the internet.

Consumer broadband, however, is just that – a consumer product without the service levels and concomitant governance enterprises expect when they purchase connectivity from a service provider.

Even the small business versions of such offerings don’t share the same enterprise service levels of MPLS, in spite of the fact that MPLS is an older, more expensive technology that can cost ten to one hundred times the amount a company pays for the equivalent broadband bandwidth.

Solving these challenges: Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology from vendors like Silver Peak.

By dynamically routing application traffic over multiple paths to optimize performance, SD-WAN can improve reliability and quality of service, and thus deliver the highest quality of experience, while simultaneously minimizing cost.

SD-WAN solutions also make routing decisions based upon the traffic type, and can thus optimize performance while maintaining the quality of other interaction channels in real-time.

Furthermore, SD-WANs can route both SaaS and IaaS cloud traffic directly to the Internet, improving both application performance and security without compromising user productivity.

Civil engineering firm J-U-B Engineers was one company that achieved such benefits. J-U-B has 17 offices scattered across five western states – and many of its project teams contain people from multiple offices. It leveraged SD-WAN to enable efficient region-wide collaboration and mitigate the costs of MPLS.

J-U-B had relied on private MPLS circuits to connect project teams to applications. However, the company was paying a premium for this service: $244,000 per year for links no faster than 10 Mbps.

Not only did MPLS consume most of the firm’s IT budget, but users struggled to access and share huge CAD project files and GIS models over the WAN, given its limited bandwidth. In some cases, it took more than half an hour to open a CAD file from a remote server, impairing project team collaboration and productivity.

J-U-B’s Director of Information Technology, Tory Adams, looked at SD-WAN as a solution. “We saw SD-WAN as a way to reduce dependence on MPLS, gain more flexibility, and hopefully save a little money in the process,” he said.

Organizations like J-U-B rarely cut over entirely from MPLS directly to broadband, however. In J-U-B’s case, its SD-WAN solution had to support the existing MPLS mesh while the company transitioned to a combined Direct Internet Access (DIA) Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and broadband WAN architecture.

J-U-B Engineers deployed the Silver Peak Unity EdgeConnect SD-WAN edge platform in all 17 offices. After a year or so operating a combination of MPLS, DIA, and broadband, J-U-B retired its MPLS circuits entirely.

Today, each branch office has connectivity from a primary DIA link and a secondary commercial broadband link. The end result: J-U-B saves nearly $100,000 per year while enjoying a tenfold increase in available bandwidth. CAD files that took more than 30 minutes to open remotely now take mere seconds – almost as fast as if they were on a local server.

J-U-B users are delighted. “The gain in application performance translates to a major time-saver for employees,” says Day. “User complaints have all but gone away.”

The Intellyx Take

As organizations of all sizes seek to leverage modern technology, they are quickly realize that existing device-centric networking models are holding them back.

SD-WAN offers companies the opportunity to shift toward a business-first networking model that liberates applications from the constraints of device-centric network models that rely exclusively on MPLS connectivity.

SD-WAN migrations often include an extended period where the company is running a mix of different links at the same time (as in J-U-B’s case), or perhaps as part of an ongoing strategy to eliminate single points of failure and deliver the highest quality of user experience.

For example, many Silver Peak customers achieve both high-quality voice and video over broadband, while using MPLS to add error correction to ensure the broadband performs as well as MPLS, at a dramatically lower cost than MPLS alone.

In the final analysis, the primary motivation for SD-WAN isn’t simply to optimize the usage of multiple connectivity types, but rather to help companies fully realize the power of digital transformation and the cloud.

Remember, customer needs are always in flux, and expectations continue to raise the bar. SD-WAN technology from companies like Silver Peak can help organizations meet such requirements even though available technology continues to evolve.

This article was originally published on intellyx.com (October 2, 2018)