Many of us still think of “telecom” and “value-added services” as being at the heart of business communications. In reality, the cloud has taken over, sparking innovative approaches to connectivity and WAN architectures. One of these is SD-WAN (or software-defined wide area networking), which has now crossed the chasm from the early adopter “hype” phase into the mainstream – and telecom as we knew it is dying a slow death.
Looking back to the days when telecom ruled (as recently as 2015!), a fairly bleak picture emerges: The telecom vision was delivered using proprietary connections from a single carrier, which involved long-term contracts and very little flexibility; value-added services (such as call-center queuing, voicemail, phone trees or emailed faxes) also were wedded to hardware, with proprietary functions enabled via routers and switches either in the carrier networks or within appliances at the customer’s location. Being proprietary, interoperability was a rare bird indeed, and agility was nearly impossible; service changes could take days or even weeks to make.
Today’s business world stands in stark contrast: We now expect our communications to be multichannel, always-on, interoperable and available anywhere. And, we require cloud-delivered applications to be available on-demand for mission-critical needs. This includes services formerly thought of as “telecom,” such as voice calls (now VoIP applications), messaging and email, unified communications, and call center functions. Also, in the mix are productivity apps, resource planning and more—all of which now integrate with those core communications services. (More precisely, it’s the other way around–communications functions are now initiated within foundational business applications, creating seamless processes.)
"With managed options proliferating, enterprises have a clear opportunity to seamlessly move on, into a post-telecom world"
That said, and it should be obvious: Implementing the cloud vision reliably requires more than just picking from a cornucopia of cloud apps to fit your needs and calling it a day. Enterprises still need to create a wide-area network (WAN) built on reliable connections from location to location and to the outside world. However, those connections no longer need to be built on expensive point-to-point circuit architectures, thanks to managed SD-WAN.
SD-WAN does exactly what it says it does; it creates connections in software where there were once only hardware-based hub-and-spoke links from the main office to the branches. A significant “beyond telecom” dimension of SD-WAN is the lack of geographic boundaries; it offers direct access to cloud resources and apps from branch locations, for instance, and creates an overlay of intelligent, programmatic functionality that exists abstracted from any hardware footprint.
This abstraction leads to one of theprimary benefits of SD-WAN: It’s connectivityagnostic. Forget about being locked into a single provider or type of connection across all locations; each office can choose the right circuit for their needs (think fiber, copper, fixed wireless or 4G), as well as connection type (e.g., MPLS, basic broadband and so on). SD-WAN doesn’t play favorites; it will run consistently across all of them.
Managed SD-WANs also support the post-telecom, cloud-enabled world when it comes to an unplanned outage. Because it’s software-defined, traffic can be seamlessly re-routed to a failover connection, including 4G LTE.
Quality of Service
As your business makes the shift to cloud applications, you require redundancy and reliability in the connections that allow you to access those apps. SD-WANsupplies intelligent networking and performance-based routing as part of its core functionality – and as such, provides real-time control and visibility over network and application performance.
This can be used to govern how applications are routed across the network, to achieve the best possible Quality of Experience (QoE). Each application can be given a different prioritization level as well, so that real-time communications like voice and video take precedence over something like email, if the connection is congested. Application prioritization can be applied to the full swath of apps in a business environment, including customer relationship management (CRM) tools, security and firewalls, enterprise resource planning and other services.
It’s worth noting that this app-aware performance management function can help mitigate the reliability challenges inherent in using some types of connectivity for critical business applications. Some managed SD-WAN providers like TPx can provide Quality of Service (QoS) over any type of underlying connection – even for so-called “best efforts” internet. And, additional features like Forward Error Correction (FEC) also can improve circuit performance, reducing jitter and packet loss.
Putting ‘Managed’ into the Mix
WAN management is a complex process, and SD-WAN is no different. It involves deploying and managing network services for a variety of applications, distributed in different IT environments and across geographic locations. A do-it-yourself SD-WAN also can be daunting when it involves multiple transport and access providers. Fortunately, “managed” SD-WAN means that an outside provider can bring this mix together under one contract and on enterprise umbrella, for a balance of flexibility, reliability and affordability.
Needless to say, this eliminates the pressure on IT and telecom departments to execute the disparate pieces that go into their multicarrier footprint. A managed provider can offer one bill, one set of SLAs and one place to go for installation, monitoring, maintenance and repair, regardless of how many underlying providers are involved.
There’s also the added benefit of network security and monitoring–something that historically has existed in a completely separate realm in traditional telecom environments. A managed SD-WAN service can provide full operational visibility and troubleshooting options. And, SD-WAN integrates network security, policy and orchestration into a unified secure connectivity approach, with end-to-end encryption across the entire network, including packets traversing the internet. All devices and endpoints are completely authenticated as well.
Bottom line? Not too long ago, you were focused on supporting your communications needs via core telecom offerings and a suite of value-added services. That world however is largely falling away, making way for a modern, cloud-enabled communications landscape in which offerings like SD-WAN and cloud applications take the place of old-school communications options. With managed options proliferating, enterprises have a clear opportunity to seamlessly move on, into a post-telecom world.