What is SD WAN?

Why does it matter for your business and how do you choose the right one?

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An Introduction to SD WAN

Networks must be more intelligent and adaptive than ever. They must able to support new use cases, access types and topologies without sacrificing performance, security or latency - all while keeping costs under control.

Software-defined wide area networking (SD WAN) is increasingly becoming the networking solution of choice for modern enterprises. So much so that IDC predicts the market for SD-WAN will reach $5.25 billion by 2023 in their 2019 SD-WAN Infrastructure.

What is SD WAN?

SD WAN is a software-based solution that simplifies management of a businesses’ WAN to optimise performance and flexibility while keeping operational costs low.

Traditionally, enterprises relied upon (multiprotocol label switching) networks for their WAN. However, MPLS generally provides limited bandwidth at a much greater cost than public broadband and cannot be easily adapted to changing traffic requirements. It is therefore both expensive and slow to expand an MPLS network.

Breaking out application traffic to public Internet to lower costs and expand more quickly brings challenges of its own, as it provides neither a private connection or service guarantees, making it unreliable and sensitive business traffic vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks.

SD WAN provides the solution – it interfaces with multiple WAN and Internet circuits, monitoring performance and speed to dynamically route traffic across the best available circuit.

It is incredibly flexible, able to identify and map thousands of applications to traffic queues to follow set application prioritisation policies. This way, the business can choose to route traffic from different applications over different links, according to their specific needs – for instance, sending sensitive data from internal applications over secure MPLS links and web browser activity over public Internet.

Why choose SD WAN?

SD WAN addresses common pain points for modern business networks, including quality of service and security, and meets requirements of today’s decentralised, geographically spread, cloud-centric networks.

It is critical for decision-makers in the business to understand the exact requirements of the organisation and to choose, deploy and correctly use the most appropriate SD WAN service.

Gain more control, and deeper insight into your WAN, increase the agility of your network, and reduce time to change

Ensure evolution with changes in traffic topology, including increased traffic flowing to SaaS cloud via the public Internet

Scale bandwidth cost-effectively, especially in areas with limited competition amongst incumbent network service providers

Monitor network deployment, near real-time performance, configuration, congestion, traffic-steering policies, applications involved and more.

Colt's SD WAN solution

Colt’s award-winning SD WAN platform combines the breadth and depth of the Colt IQ Network, with application-based traffic steering, real-time service changes via an interactive customer portal, virtual routing and firewall services enabled via Network Function Virtualisation (NFV).

Given the criticality of robust security at both the network edge and core, Colt provides an integrated firewall with SD WAN CPE at the network edge. It enables secure local internet breakout from all branch sites and protects them from DDoS attacks. Colt’s SD WAN portal also provides customers with the ability to create firewall policies and rules.

Solutions are delivered via universal CPEs, now available on a self-install basis for faster delivery. Colt provides a range of network access options including delivery over Colt’s owned fibre network, third party internet and 3G/4G radio access at remote sites, with customers able to prioritise traffic using advanced routing techniques.

This year, Colt has also launched SD WAN Multi-Cloud – a feature which enables direct, reliable and secure connectivity towards multiple clouds via a transit gateway. Colt SD WAN Multi-Cloud utilises the extensive, SDN-optimised Colt IQ Network to provide high performance, inexpensive, and secure cloud connectivity directly into the cloud service provider.

For more information on Colt SD WAN, visit this page.

Choosing the right deployment model

The most critical step in choosing the right WAN solution for any given enterprise is understanding at a high level how they want to manage their SD WAN. What kind of support is needed from the supplier, given the IT resources available within the business?

For large corporations, a ‘DIY’ approach to deploying and managing an SD WAN solution may be considered. The DIY model involves businesses buying SD WAN technology directly from the vendor and deploying and managing their solution in-house, giving them full control and visibility of the network.

However, building a complete SD WAN architecture across multiple locations and network access types with multiple vendors is a complex task and it is essential that a business have an IT department with the required skills and experience – including dealing with tens of different local loop providers and keeping the network up and running 24x7.

For most businesses, this option isn’t suitable. Instead, they benefit from adopting a managed service with an experienced partner who can help seamlessly integrate the new SD WAN service with their existing infrastructure and provide support throughout the service lifecycle.

Working with a managed service provider means that firms don’t need to invest the time, money and effort to source and retain the required skills, nor build up an internal organisation to offer 24/7 support.

By adopting this model, they would also benefit from the cost efficiencies of a large provider network, who can leverage existing relationships with third-party access providers to ensure customers receive the best possible service, end-to-end.

Overall, choosing a managed service ensures fast deployment, network performance guarantees, and assurance that the business-critical application requirements of the company are met by the right access options on the underlying network.

Identifying business requirements and critical features

Once the type of service is decided, the next step is to identify what features and capabilities are most critical to meet the requirements of the business. Does the business rely upon multiple cloud-based SaaS and IaaS applications from different cloud service providers? If so, look for a service that offers support for multi-cloud and cloud-to-cloud connectivity.

Is it key to future-proof the organisation and fully enable all the network functions to be delivered as an application, remotely and rapidly? Consider a service that is offered over self-install universal Customer Premise Equipment (uCPE), over which new virtualised functions can be added and deployed rapidly without the need for technician site visits.

Other important factors to consider are availability of security features like next-generation firewall and encryption, a centralised management portal, network performance reporting and analytics features, and availability of load balancing to reduce network congestion.

Using your SD WAN

After the service has been chosen, the focus should shift to understanding the organisation’s structure and day-to-day network usage and how to apply SD WAN features to optimise performance.

For managed services, suppliers can provide support in configuring the service to address the organisation’s requirements and patterns of application use, network failover and failback settings, or behavioural actions to take place.

Equally important to setting up the SD WAN service with the most appropriate configuration is continually reassess the service throughout its lifecycle to dynamically respond to the constant changes in bandwidth requirements, application usage, and user experience. It is critical to take advantage of the reporting and analytics capabilities available on the chosen platform to actively monitor performance and respond as required.

By understanding that network requirements and user behaviours of an organisation are constantly evolving, and dynamically applying the extensive capabilities and features of the managed SD WAN service to react to these changes, firms can power their digital transformation to their full potential.

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SD WAN as a service

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