Industry Insights

Why Application Awareness is Critical for SD‑WAN

Everyone loves to talk about digital transformation in abstract terms. But when the digital-rubber meets the organizational-road, it is in its applications that things become real.

by Charles Arujo, Principal Analyst, Intellyx

Everyone loves to talk about digital transformation in abstract terms. But when the digital-rubber meets the organizational-road, it is in its applications that things become real.

As a result, there has been significant transformation throughout the enterprise IT stack with everything from application development to the data center undergoing considerable change to support the changing nature of applications. But the one area that remained stubbornly static was the network.

Until, that is, the emergence of Software-defined Networking (SDN) and Wide-Area Networks (SD-WANs).

The idea of an SD-WAN, in particular, is enticing: mix together traditional network connections with inexpensive broadband and then dynamically and intelligently route traffic wherever it’s needed, across the least expensive link, all while maintaining network performance.

There’s only one problem: organizations don’t care about network performance — at least, not exactly. They only care about the applications running on top of that network. And that’s where most SD-WAN solutions go sideways: they’re focused on the network, not the application.

The Disconnect Between the Application and Packet Routing

While its status as the ‘next big thing’ may have initially drawn many networking professionals and IT executives to SD-WAN, it is not just a new coat of paint on an old technology. SD-WAN is a key part of the digital transformation story — but only if organizations approach it from the right perspective.

Digital transformation is about a fundamental shift in power to the customer. It creates a business environment in which customers control the terms of the engagement. The net result of this shift is that enterprises must develop the capability to rapidly adapt to changing customer demands.

This transition takes place on a bunch of different levels, but from a technology perspective it all comes down to the application. In almost all cases, the application represents the point-of-engagement, either because your customer is interacting with the application directly, or because it is the application that enables engagement with your employee.

The application is thus the linchpin in reshaping the customer experience and reorienting the organization around this new customer-centricity. But when it comes to traditional network technologies, and even most of the SD-WAN solutions in the market, the application isn’t in the mix at all. Instead, the world of networking revolves around the packet.

From a raw technical perspective, this focus on the packet makes sense. At the most foundational level, the network is responsible for routing and managing the delivery of packets from one location in the network to another. And for most of IT’s history, when the focus was on the automation of backend business processes, that was enough.

But that is no longer the case.

Why Your Network Must be Application-Aware

Application-awareness is now a critical functionality for modern network deployments.

As organizations have shifted their focus to automating more of the customer journey and are relying on technology to power nearly every facet of the customer experience, the network has become a critical part of the digital supply chain. After all, it doesn’t matter how sexy or fast your application is if the network can’t deliver that application where it needs to be when it needs to be there.

But just routing packets faster or more efficiently or using simple Quality of Service (QoS) policies to prioritize packets is no longer enough. And that’s because it is no longer sufficient to use packets as the primary management paradigm for the network.

This insufficiency is because not all applications are created equally, which means that neither are the packets underlying them. Some applications are more critical to the business than others. Some are more sensitive to latency and jitter than others. Even more challenging, some are more critical to delivering business value at only certain times or under certain circumstances.

The network, therefore, must employ application awareness, in which the network sees beyond the packet to identify the application and its relative business impact, to effectively and efficiently route network traffic and deliver the performance and adaptability needed in today’s dynamic environment.

The Intellyx Take

SD-WAN is a transformative technology. It’s no surprise that its adoption is gaining traction, or that it is now a conversation topic in executive suites. But like all new technologies, IT leaders must employ it not because it’s new or cool, but because it can help them respond to the rapidly changing needs of the enterprise.

SD-WAN indeed offers organizations enhanced flexibility, resiliency and cost advantages. But enterprises will find its true transformative power only when they view the network as more than a packet-delivery medium and instead see it as their application delivery pipeline.

For this reason, IT leaders should be demanding that their SD-WAN solutions be ‘application aware’ and should look at solutions which can help them leverage the network as a critical element of their digital transformation.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. CloudGenix is an Intellyx client. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this paper.

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