The explosive growth of data, together with the need for faster delivery and processing, are already causing greater network latency and increased access issues for many enterprises striving to keep up with demand.
In addition, end-users are demanding a better experience from their applications, whether in the cloud or on-premises – and accessed through any device.

“Fully relishing the best of both worlds means that data centres are continuously able to change the enterprises mind-set to embracing technology, as well as an understanding that change isn’t only limited to technology, but to how the overall business accomplishes work with improved agility and efficiently,” says Alexandre Gibouin, connectivity BU: international business development at Orange Business Services.

“As more organisations move towards digitally transforming their business WAN to an software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN), network enterprises are able to close the gap by leveraging relatively improved Internet bandwidth,” adds Gibouin.

SD-WAN is crucial to businesses that are moving their applications to the cloud and those with multiple branches that want to utilise high-speed off-the-shelf Internet connectivity but still want to have some control over those links.

“Enterprises of all sizes want to prioritise traffic and manage their Internet bandwidth; and they also know that if they don’t evolve to the cloud environment, they risk falling behind their competitors who are using innovative technologies.”

At the same time, high-quality access has become crucial as enterprises are increasingly using the Internet to run applications – both in the cloud and from offnet devices, such as mobiles. According to the IDC report, “SD-WAN: Guidance on WAN Transformation”, in companies with over 5 000 employees, 47% of enterprise applications are currently accessed via the internet. This trend is only going to grow.

In a local context, South African organisations are increasingly drawn to the cloud. According to Frost & Sullivan (2017), the local cloud market is worth $140-million with notable potential for growth, driven by critical business priorities and underpinned by the availability of strong data centre and connectivity infrastructures.

Should the growth of the local cloud market continue above 16% for cloud infrastructure and over 40% for professional services, it has the potential to become a $2,3-billion market over the next three years, according to Accenture (2017).

The big problem for many enterprises, however, is their legacy networks are inflexible and often incapable of supporting multiple access methods or architectural changes. This mix needs to include secure and stable Internet connectivity, which can offer an excellent end-user application experience, without connection and delay issues.

Similarly to the challenge most South African businesses face, on how to evolve existing infrastructure to take advantage of new capabilities offered by cloud-native apps without losing critical functionality from the technology on which the business relies.

The use of cloud has a strong focus on security performance, high availability and scalable integration, which is crucial in Africa’s growing Internet landscape. This best of both worlds makes business processes more efficient and dynamic and accelerates development processes.

The use of cloud is also increasing the distance between the end-user and data centres, creating control and latency problems. The distance the data has to travel can make the difference between a great and poor user experience – even if sufficient bandwidth is available. Lifting the limitations of location makes for greater scalability and flexibility.

An elastic solution

Enterprises are looking for the power to combine architectures to achieve their cost and performance goals. This is where SD-WAN comes in. One of SD-WAN’s key advantages is that it can manage multiple types of connections, including multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), Internet and LTE.

Geographically distributed enterprises with offices across global locations are adopting SD-WAN because it lowers the cost and complexity of WANs, supports increased use of the internet, makes business operations more agile and increases overall productivity.

SD-WAN enables enterprises to create hybrid networks that combine multiple technologies, including the Internet, by separating the control of traffic from the delivery tools. It routes traffic across the best path, based on rules specified by the IT department, including real-time availability. The data can be easily and efficiently controlled via a cloud-based control panel.

For the majority of enterprises, the need for WAN transformation becomes crucial as they adopt cloud services. “There is no way, for example, that your organisation can cost-effectively support the delivery of cloud-based applications and services on WAN architectures that were designed and built for a client-server era in which all applications were resident in enterprise data centres,” explains IDC.

IDC also believes that SD-WAN’s value proposition, driven by the growth in cloud computing, the need for VPN capabilities and the necessity to reduce MPLS costs, will make a compelling case to enterprises to shift to SD-WAN looking for “cost-effective cloud-era networking to branch offices and remote sites”.

MPLS and SD-WAN working together

The big strength of SD-WANs is that they can mix and match different approaches, and this includes MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching). Rather than pushing MPLS out of the picture, which was first mooted when SD-WAN emerged on the scene, they actually work well together as a team.

With MPLS alone, traffic is sent via a specified route path. SD-WAN can make MPLS more flexible by using MPLS paths and adding additional ones, such as the Internet. MPLS capacity can be used for mission-critical, high-security traffic, for example, with other traffic offloaded to the Internet, thereby reducing costs.

SD-WAN is already helping enterprises make branch office deployment easier and improve connectivity to both the cloud and data centres by providing zero-touch provisioning and simplified management. This has all helped to enhance performance, whilst reduce the cost of maintaining a hybrid WAN network.

Enterprises that have yet to understand the benefits of updating their network infrastructures to accommodate SD-WAN will fast do so. As IDC says: “If your WAN hasn’t changed yet, digital transformation and the cloud will soon make you cognizant of its inherent limitations.”

In conclusion, Gibouin states that by finding the right technology partner businesses will be able to future-proof their solutions, and undergo a smooth transition from their existing network infrastructure to SD-WAN.

“Your chosen partner should be able to provide an optimized, flexible service model based on your specific needs and support you with a smooth transition path from your legacy network to the new SD-WAN infrastructure. This is increasingly important for the digital transformation of businesses across the African continent.”