Dan Blacharski

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Yes, you really can touch the clouds

SD-WAN deployment on the increase


Even small businesses are achieving a global reach, and the need for wide-area network connectivity is pressing as companies ranging from small startups, to global enterprises maintain data centers in multiple locations. A cloud-based, software-defined WAN represents an enormous step forward in achieving this connectivity and has moved into the mainstream. Gartner predicts that 25 percent of users will manage their WAN via software within two years – underscoring the reality that you don't need appliances or on-premise hardware to have a strong, scalable and secure WAN. In fact, you may be better off and more secure without the on-premise hardware on several fronts.

Although there is an obvious cost savings in a software-based WAN, cost alone is a minor consideration compared to the added flexibility, faster deployment, and rigorous security this type of solution affords. Leveraging a cloud-based backbone delivers added security over a proprietary system, adding the all-important Service Level Agreement – and simplifying deployment by passing management to the cloud provider. The so-called "fallacy of direct control" is the basis of common objection to cloud-based systems – that is, the false assumption that, "If I can't touch it, I can't control it."

The outdated insistence on direct control may be practical for very large enterprises which have the resources at hand, ability to constantly invest in updated equipment, and access to top talent – but the majority of companies are in reality at a disadvantage when it comes to maintaining their own WAN, networking equipment and data centers. Small to medium-size businesses in particular may suffer from a serious skills gap, especially as the complexity of the WAN becomes a vexing problem. In a recent Cato Networks report, a survey of 700 IT professionals found that rising complexity was one of the most frequently reported issues – and over half of the survey respondents indicated that the primary solution being considered for simplifying the WAN was to move to an SD-WAN model.

In fact, the cloud is rapidly becoming as tangible as appliances, and security concerns over the cloud are outdated. The first SD-WANs were built to address the higher costs of MPLS, but suffered from a narrow security focus, the main purpose of which was to encrypt the SD-WAN overlay tunnels over the Internet. It quickly became evident that Internet-borne threats would have to be addressed, which was initially done with partnerships between SD-WAN providers and network security vendors, which offered some security, but still had a major flaw in that security and networking remained in separate silos. Another early limitation was challenges in heterogeneous connectivity. While MPLS soundly addressed the "last mile" of connectivity, it wasn't until later that SD-WAN providers including pure-play SD-WAN vendor Cato Networks pioneered optimized last mile connectivity by leveraging tactics including application and link-aware policy-based routing, hybrid MPLS/Internet WAN support, and Forward Error Correction. In addition to pure-play vendors like Cato Networks, some incumbent vendors like Cisco and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise have also been rolling out SD-WAN products. The substantially lower cost has not been lost on the industry, which now has an entirely new market of small to medium-sized businesses available to them.

Understanding SD-WAN deployment

Companies looking at SD-WAN have high expectations in terms of reduced complexity, increased security, scalability and lower costs. The big question in deployment though, is whether the SD-WAN provider is up to the task. While the SD-WAN does simplify the network, if additional appliances are required as part of the deployment, part of the advantage of SD-WAN is being missed. Many SD-WANs do not provide native protection against Internet-borne threats, which adds back some of that complexity by requiring an external security appliance to be integrated with the SD-WAN. In addition to the security consideration, support for a multi-cloud deployment model.

On the skills gap point, companies without access to highly specialized talent overcome that gap as the SD-WAN abstracts the underlying network connections, simplifying network operations and shifting the complexity away from the corporate user to the SD-WAN provider.

A company considering a move to SD-WAN should examine their expectations, deployment requirements, as well as their existing physical and human resources assets, as well as considerations such as future growth and the need for rapid scalability – the latter of which might otherwise require significant capital expenditures using traditional WAN strategies.

We are firmly in the midst of a new era of the cloud. Common objections which once caused some companies to resist are now outdated. The cost advantage of the cloud is clear, but the biggest advantage is access to better equipment, more talented engineers and uptime guarantees in the form of rigorous SLAs. In many cases, the move to SD-WAN is going to be the obvious choice.

More Stories By Dan Blacharski

Dan Blacharski is an IT thought leader, advisor, industry observer and editor of "NewsOrg.org. He has been widely published on subjects relating to customer-facing technology, fintech, cloud computing and crowdsourcing. He lives in South Bend, Indiana with his wife Charoenkwan and their Boston Terrier, "Ling Ba." Follow @Dan_Blacharski