31 January 2018

There is a lot of hype around about software-defined-networking and in particular SD-WAN. At The Instillery, SD-WAN is one of the plays we are backing and a service we provide to our customers. Here are some of the key reasons why:

Cloud focused

This is the most obvious one for us, and the key reason we added SD-WAN to our services. Connectivity was being left behind when we move customers to cloud. Whether it’s getting traffic straight to Office 365, or extending your WAN to AWS & Azure, SD-WAN gives us the most direct route. It avoids unnecessarily tromboning a data centre or head office, which in reality just adds a single point of failure and a potential bottleneck when getting to cloud services. Plus, all that does is tend to add cost. Plus it’s easy. Simply input you cloud credentials to discovery your public cloud networks, and use single click provisioning to deploy a virtual device in the cloud, connecting that cloud network to your WAN.

Apps not protocols

Traditionally network prioritisation has focused on prioritising protocols, such as voice traffic, over Internet browsing. Today the Internet is the most broadly used business network. If you’re using Salesforce, Zoom meetings, or Office 365, it’s likely these web apps are just as important to your business as Citrix or SIP. Simply prioritising one protocol over another isn’t granular enough. The need to prioritise one website or app over another matter just as much. While bandwidth is plentiful, it is still useful to prioritise in failure scenarios to lower bandwidth/higher cost links or to simply have visibility of how much of your network traffic is YouTube or Facebook.

Zero-touch provisioning

The world works too fast for long lead times and having to send engineers to site. From pop-up stores to offsite teams, or even construction sites that come and go with a project, businesses need for flexibility extends to connecting sites. Simple, quick and efficient installation is a must. If you can install an Apple TV, you should be able to install an SD-WAN appliance. We’ve made it even easier by packaging in colour coded cables, with pictures to help you know what plug goes where. What if you get stuck? Simply plug a smartphone into the USB port on the back and turn on USB tethering, and we can update the config remotely.

Telco agnostic

We resell both UFB connections and 4G mobile to support SD-WAN, just to make our customers lives easier. However one of the great things with SD-WAN is that the overlay WAN can be built over any connection medium. We are just as happy for customers to Bring Your Own Connection (BYOC) or have a blended model. Got a great deal on mobile? Great, negotiate your own 4G backup links. Got international offices where its easier for them to just organise the best Internet connection available? Suits us. In fact, it can be even better for customers to use different connectivity providers as it removes single points of failure in core ISP networks. (we ourselves have different ISPs for fixed vs mobile for this reason). The other benefit of this is change. You don’t have to migrate all connections from one provider to another. Just shift them as they come up for a contract if there is a better option.

It's not always SD-WAN vs MPLS

SD-WAN works perfectly well integrated with an MPLS network. Often an organisation will have a bunch of internal applications or services they wish to maintain an MPLS network for. We can approach this in multiple ways.

  • The MPLS network can be used to create an SD-WAN overlay network i.e. tunnels over the MPLS network.
  • The MPLS network can be used as an underlying network i.e. the SD-WAN devices just route over it, without building tunnels.
  • We can mix sites that need MPLS with those that don’t i.e. some sites access central resources through tunnels over the Internet, while others also use an MPLS network.

Multi-tenanted web-based management

Nobody likes waiting two days for a firewall change. Nobody likes being in the dark about how well the networks performing when everything seems to slow down. Nobody wants to wait a month to get a capacity report. Most SD-WAN solutions (ours included) offer multi-tenanted web-based interfaces that are intuitive to use. These have built-in role-based access, and admin logging which makes it easy for us to run our copilot support model, where customers get as much access as they want to view or make changes. Of course, we’re still there as needed, but we think we get better results supplementing teams rather than replacing them.

It’s not all about the WAN

Right so this started out all about SD-WAN, however, that is not where it ends. A lot of the same reasons we run SD-WAN extend to the LAN and wifi networks. Do people really care about a WAN, or do they just care that their users are connected to the right resources, with the right level of security and the right level of performance? Network-as-a-Service is increasingly popular as it is outcome-focused. The NZ govt even has a Telco-as-a-Service panel to promote consumption-based models of network services to government bodies. In our opinion, it’s all a bit pricey and clunky, but we agree with the underlying premise. Our SD-WAN offering can include switching and wifi, all managed under the same web interface. One great feature is that it isn’t even reliant on having an SD-WAN gateway. If you have an offsite training session where you need to connect to internal services, or your CEO wants to work from Omaha for January, simply deploy a wireless access point to any Internet-connected location, and extend the corporate network as you see fit.

That highlights just some of the benefits we see with SD-WAN, and it’s really just a modern approach to networking. With it being so simple to set up and deploy, it is also super-easy to try out. We’ve run demo’s and then as a next step - a proof of concept if you think it might be right for your business.