Industry Insights

The Enterprise Cloud and SD-WAN

The business case for cloud adoption has already been made and quantified by enterprise leaders. Early adopters of private and public clouds are already beginning to see measurable results in reduced time to market, operational efficiency, and cost reduction. Other advantages, such as greater scalability and increased performance, are also becoming more clear as companies move workloads to the cloud.

According to a 2017 report by McKinsey and Company, certain trends are evident when comparing the workloads that enterprises are choosing for cloud placement. SaaS is seeing the largest growth with the highest percentages of back office support workloads, communication and collaboration solutions, and marketing and sales solutions. The public cloud is the clear favorite for development, testing, and web workloads. The private cloud show the highest growth for infrastructure services and core business operations.

The quantifiable financial and productivity results being realized will continue to drive rapid adoption of all three cloud models (public, private, hybrid) by all enterprises throughout the next few years. A detailed adoption plan must be designed to address the enabling technologies and processes required for success. The most critical of which will be enabling technologies, culture, and stakeholder involvement. In this article we will be focusing on the enabling technologies.

Enabling Technologies Critical for Cloud Adoption

Perhaps the best examples of enabling technologies are those that have made the cloud possible: virtualization and software defined networking (SDN). Without either of these technologies, the cloud we have today wouldn’t even exist. They are the core building blocks of every cloud technology. According to Wikipedia, virtualization refers to the act of creating a virtual (rather than physical) version of something, including virtual computer hardware platforms, virtual storage devices, and virtual computer network resources.

SDN is another enabler that is critical to our ability to handle networking and security in the cloud. It is also a crucial piece for enabling automatic provisioning, and automation technologies. SD-WAN, or software-defined wide area network, is a subset of SDN that will be critical for enterprises no matter which cloud model, or models, they choose to adopt.

SD-WAN is Essential for Reliability in the Cloud

Even if an enterprise accomplishes 100% cloud adoption, they will still need to maintain the infrastructure for access to cloud resources for corporate users, remote offices, teleworkers, or retail sites. As part of that access, the enterprise will need to monitor and define policies to guarantee reliable access to those resources in an economical manner. This is where SD-WAN comes into the picture. In addition to providing reliable access by combining any form of connectivity from MPLS, to broadband, to wireless services such as 4G and LTE, SD-WAN is critical for defining business policy and security when accessing any form of cloud resource. First generation SD-WAN technologies allowed for the bonding of disparate sources of connectivity to ensure high availability. Second generation technologies are application-centric, allowing for definition and enforcement of policies based on actual applications, in-depth analysis, and monitoring of actual user experience.  Second generation SD-WAN makes enforcement and remediation decisions based on metrics that comprise user experience (response time, transaction throughput) in addition to the networking-only metrics used by first generation SD-WAN, which include bandwidth, latency, loss, and jitter.  For example, If your primary link degrades service for just one of the plethora of services that Office365 offers, second-generation SD-WAN will take the appropriate steps to move that traffic to a better performing link automatically based on the overall user experience.

Second-generation SD-WAN goes well beyond just automated remediation though. Applications are constantly monitored and evaluated for performance and matched against SLAs to handle a wide range of issues that would require dedicated IT engineers hours to resolve. If it becomes necessary to temporarily slow a less critical type of traffic to guarantee the requisite bandwidth or performance of a business critical function, then it is handled automatically according to defined business policies without the need for user intervention.

SD-WAN is also a cost saving technology for the enterprise. Rather than maintaining redundant MPLS, or using technologies such as Metro Ethernet Rings to provide high availability, the enterprise can utilize lower cost, and often higher bandwidth, alternative connectivity options such as commodity internet, which also helps improve posture in connecting to and deploying cloud applications. It is not uncommon for a simple retail site with redundant 10Mbps MPLS links to have monthly telecom costs in excess of $8000 per month. What if you were able to bring in a 5Mbps MPLS primary link and a couple provider independent 100Mpbs commodity Internet links at $100 per month each? Or 1 Internet link, and a 4G/LTE backup? You would have increased bandwidth, and 3 tiers of connectivity for less than half the price. The advantages provided by second-generation SD-WAN are obvious.

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