Does Today’s App-First Business Environment Call for SDN?

As a growing number of their IT processes migrate to the cloud, enterprises must reevaluate their approach to networking.

Until recently, the goal of the average enterprise IT administrator has been to build a networking infrastructure optimized for hub-and-spoke voice, video, and data. Corporate internet traffic has traditionally been routed through a single, centralized hub, but with the rise of remote work and cloud computing, this network layout has become less and less ideal.

Today’s business world is defined first and foremost by applications, the majority of which run exclusively in the cloud — according to RightScale’s 2017 State of the Cloud Survey, nearly 80% of all corporate workloads now run in a cloud environment.

Cloud computing offers enterprises a range of benefits like increased flexibility and improved cybersecurity. It’s become so enticing that the average enterprise now runs or has plans to run apps in five different cloud environments.

As promising as this app-first paradigm may be, it will not realize its full potential until enterprises take a long, hard look at the way they build their networks. While longstanding approaches to wide area networking (WAN) like multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) still have a place in the enterprise space, software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) appears to be a better fit for the emerging era of corporate IT.

 

The Wrong App-roach to App-First Networking

MPLS first gained popularity in the early 2000s thanks to its ability to overcome the crippling latency created by IP packets being forwarded — or “hopping” — according to incredibly complex routing tables. But while the introduction of MLPS marked an important step forward in the evolution of wide area networking, MLPS is no longer suited to our increasingly app-first enterprise environments for two reasons: cost and visibility.

MPLS routing relies on traditional networking hardware, which means enterprise IT teams must painstakingly set up and provision each FEC route manually. As Network World contributor Mike C. Smith points out, “If you need 100M+ bandwidth, monthly circuit costs will often make your hair stand on-end. Sometimes it’s the router costs and sometimes it’s the circuits themselves, but the point is, high-bandwidth MPLS is usually pricey.”

What’s more, MPLS WANs provide network administrators with very limited visibility into bandwidth consumption and traffic patterns. In an app-based environment in which users are constantly scaling their activity up and down, that lack of transparency prevents IT pros from doing efficient network troubleshooting and precise management of cloud resources.

 

Unparalleled Network Visibility and Control

Not unlike the cloud-based apps they’re designed to support, SD-WANs shift the bulk of IT professionals’ touchpoints from network hardware to software-based dashboards. The underlying networking hardware is still there, of course, but SD-WANs enable enterprises to manage their networking with an additional layer of abstraction, taking advantage of multiple internet connections — fiber, 4G, etc. — simultaneously.

Since SD-WANs are vendor and connection agnostic, they are able to scale up right alongside an enterprise’s apps. Even better, since SD-WANs exist independent of any specific set of hardware, they can be managed with the precision and flexibility of an ordinary software program. “With SD-WAN, we control the entire WAN…it’s easy to manage, easy to change,” says Redmond, Inc. Technical Project Manager Aaron Gabrielson. “I can control and shape the bandwidth at each location centrally through a graphical user interface.”

 

Forging Ahead

As with any emerging networking technology, the best way for enterprises to maximize their ROI on SD-WAN is to be deliberate about their implementation and enlist a seasoned networking expert like Turn-key Technologies (TTI).

At TTI, we have nearly three decades of experience helping enterprises overcome the challenges of delivering high-performing, secure connectivity at scale. Sometimes this involves leveraging the results of a network assessment to fine-tune a traditional networking infrastructure, and sometimes it involves experimenting with new approaches like SD-WAN.

Regardless of the approach your network needs, we’ve got the know-how necessary to help enterprises do whatever it takes to adapt to the emerging app-first era.

By Craig Badrick

May 24, 2018

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