SD-WANs are Morphing from Physical Sites to Backpacks, Ships and Trains

Imagine an emergency scenario where a first responder can treat or monitor an injured person in a remote location with guidance from a doctor via real-time video. The first responder is equipped with a backpack that not only contains essential medical supplies, but also a ruggedized laptop and a solid state software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) appliance that provides dual LTE connectivity to a 4G network.

This innovation known as backpack-as-a-service is possible thanks to SD-WANs, which now have many emerging use cases beyond just connecting branch offices, warehouses, and retail locations. SD-WANs are built for mobile environments to prioritize critical and real-time applications, such as video telemedicine.

Unlike traditional WANs, SD-WAN networking hardware can be managed with a software-based controller hosted in the cloud. One of the biggest benefits is the ability to link up sites using multiple connections from different providers and different types of transport, such as long-term evolution (LTE), multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), and broadband internet. SD-WANs use these different transport options to connect users to applications, whether they reside in a data center or in the cloud.

Since SD-WANs provide more network flexibility, businesses are increasingly moving away from the notion that a site has to be a physical location. Today’s SD-WAN deployments are expanding not only to backpacks, but also ships, trains, vehicles, and other non-traditional sites, which can include a person or a device located anywhere in the world.

SD-WANs address connectivity problems in the most difficult environments. Take ships as an example. Typical maritime communications utilize various WAN technologies to connect ship systems and passengers at sea with applications and services on land. As is the case with any business, ship networks have different requirements for management and protection. A cruise ship may require advanced voice communication capabilities, while a cargo ship may need real-time connectivity for its asset-tracking system.

SD-WAN-enabled networks are flexible enough to support maritime communications by simultaneously providing different connectivity options, while also ensuring reliability and security. They’re also cost-effective. Instead of having dedicated experts onboard at all times, the networks can be managed and updated remotely using software.

The same goes for businesses with thousands of sites, ranging from mobile devices to showroom booths to roaming pop-up kiosks. SD-WANs allow businesses to provide application access and orchestrate quality of service (QoS) wherever the site may be. Location-independent SD-WANs direct traffic between a site and its destination, providing flexible pathways for applications based on traffic requirements.

Undoubtedly, security becomes a major concern when businesses start managing thousands of non-physical sites. That’s why security can’t be an afterthought when deploying an SD-WAN, which won’t provide enough protection on its own. Foundational security capabilities, a zone-based firewall, segmentation, etc. should be unified into the SD-WAN solution, while  added layers of protection can be positioned close to branch locations using services like cloud-hosted security. It’s an efficient way for businesses with multiple sites to centralize the entire security stack in the cloud instead of deploying expensive next gen firewalls at each location. The fact that security can be delivered and managed via the SD-WAN solution and the cloud enables it to scale to an almost infinite number of sites. It would certainly be impractical to deploy a firewall into a backpack or duct tape a router to the bottom of a store kiosk. Software and the cloud make this practical and affordable.

Modern businesses have to look beyond the traditional branch and prepare for a mass explosion in the number of non-physical sites. SD-WANs can meet the growing requirements for high-quality, always-on connectivity by enabling network and security services from the cloud anytime, anywhere. But it’s up to individual businesses to gauge what exactly those requirements are. An SD-WAN solution that powers a first responder backpack won’t meet high-speed rail requirements. Luckily, SD-WAN solutions have come a long way in addressing all types of use cases. It’s a good time to jump on the SD-WAN train.

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