SD-WAN's role in enhancing the capabilities of cloud-based enterprise networks

The technology is a promising solution to a variety of challenges as the demand for network technologies in enterprise grows


The increasing demand from businesses for more flexible and reliable network technologies has helped augment the adoption graph of software-defined wide area networks across a multitude of application areas. The technology has emerged as a viable solution to address challenges created when using simple legacy WAN systems, like visibility and security, as well as management of particular applications and assets.

SD-WAN undeniably has a multitude of benefits, some of which include reduced costs, easier automation of processes, enhanced performance of cloud-based business applications, along with optimization of efficiency and user experience for software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers. Owing to these benefits in conjunction with the growth of major business sectors, it is anticipated that  the global SD-WAN market will surpass $17bn in annual revenues by the year 2025, according to Global Market Insights.

Enterprise customers are now shifting toward implementing cloud-based systems instead of deploying expensive and proprietary WAN hardware and other fixed equipment. SD-WAN, primarily competitive against the high cost of traditional WAN, also delivers significant improvements in internet connectivity, which has become a necessity due to the growing cloud traffic. In addition, SD-WAN technology enables seamless connectivity between an enterprise network and data centers located far from the campus.

As more users are connecting from remote locations to a company's network via 4G, LTE or broadband internet, industries such as telecom, retail, manufacturing and healthcare need to handle more intricate networks and are facing realistic security threats. Besides, unparalleled growth in the use of smart IoT devices has only aggravated the complexity of enterprise networks, coercing the implementation of SD-WAN for managing connected devices and network visibility.

In terms of technological advancements, the integration of AI and machine learning (ML) capabilities on the cloud has enormously boosted the dynamic nature of SD-WAN solutions. Instead of manual monitoring and data handling, AI and ML can provide better insights into a business by precise tracking of vital data points.

What are the factors that have been driving the application of SD-WAN to enhance enterprise networking systems?

Traditional WAN networks are not suitable for the tremendous outburst of traffic generated by public and private clouds, leading to difficulties in operational management and predicting performance, as well as poor user experience. These problems were being gradually realized by corporations who have moved to using SaaS and IaaS applications to either replace or supplement legacy WAN systems like multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and achieve cost-efficiency.

It must be remembered that the more a business network is open to internet and cloud accessibility, the more exposed it is to cyber risks and compliance issues. Remote access for employees and third parties, who need to use an application on the company's network as part of their operations, makes it essential to safeguard connected assets. SD-WAN technology can help fulfil the robust security requirements of an enterprise WAN, while tackling its complexity and improving user experience.

According to the international body representing mobile network operators, GSMA, more than half of the 25.2 billion IoT devices expected by 2025 will be deployed for industry-specific applications within enterprises. Since a majority of these applications will supposedly be on the cloud and would have to manage an enormous inflow of traffic and data, SD-WAN technology will certainly provide businesses the network reliability and capability deemed necessary for future growth.

Adoption of hybrid cloud model by businesses to expand the deployment of SD-WAN:

Cloud services are primarily selected on the basis of the cost savings they deliver, though their main purpose has always been to keep pace with rapid digital transformation of enterprises. A hybrid cloud architecture is generally comprised of private, on-premises and public cloud services to leverage their combined storage and computing abilities. Not only is a hybrid model easily scalable according to requirements, but it also allows managing cloud bursting, where the demand for storage exceeds the capacity of one cloud resource.

In essence, distributing the burden on one component of the enterprise network can be accomplished by using different resources for different purposes. For instance, the most critical and sensitive applications of a business can be hosted on a private cloud, which is more secure and offers the lowest latency. On the other hand, less-critical tasks can be hosted on a public cloud, which provides additional compute power and storage for data which not accessed frequently. Along with operational agility and numerous benefits, the hybrid model also increases the risk to security and makes monitoring of data difficult.

SD-WAN solutions are able to provide security and aggregation of cloud access through MPLS alternatives like internet and direct-to-cloud connections. Their built-in defense mechanisms and integration with cloud service providers help to counter various threats from distinct sources, especially with the continuous evolution of threat database and deployment of AI capabilities. Using hybrid infrastructure, SD-WANs can enable access to applications over vast distances and smartly handle low-priority processes or heavy traffic depending on real-time network capacity.

Introduction of 5G networks worldwide to support the development of SD-WAN technology:

GSMA forecasts show that by 2025, 5G will be accounting for 15% of all mobile connections globally, with major equipment and device manufacturers scuttling to build 5G-ready components for the future. The latest connectivity technology can be considered to be a key driver for SD-WAN owing to the high bandwidths and extremely low latency it can provide at campuses where fixed-line networks are either not available or too expensive to install.

With 5G to be made available soon across the globe and having already been deployed in countries like the US and South Korea, enterprises would be able to use it almost immediately for connecting branch offices, operational locations and remote employees with their network and cloud resources. Realizing the massive potential of 5G, AT&T has recently teamed up with VMware to deploy the latter's SD-WAN with its network. The company wants to enable enterprises use SD-WAN and bring forward the next revolution in networking technology.

Separately, Cisco is also implementing SD-WAN in the cellular domain, in a partnership with Verizon, which will soon launch its 5G network, to help organizations benefit from the speed and performance of 5G while using mobile edge computing and other services.

These recent efforts underscore the growth opportunities for SD-WAN technology with the simultaneous proliferation of 5G networks over the next few years. Undoubtedly, the combination can be expected to transform cloud computing and data management, augmenting the capabilities of enterprise networking.

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