What is SD-WAN and how can it help UK businesses?

What is SD-WAN and how can it help UK businesses?

Lance Spencer, Director of Data Networking and Next Generation Services

Lance Spencer, Director of Data Networking and Next Generation Services

Software Defined Networks (SDN), and in particular Software Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WANs) are all the rage at the moment.

But what is driving this interest, almost overnight?

TalkTalk Business is increasingly being asked this, so I thought I’d take the time to explain what SD-WAN is and if businesses should choose it over a Private Network (MPLS).  This is a big topic, so I’m going to spread it over 2 blogs.

This blog will cover ‘What is SD-WAN’. Part 2 will cover ‘5 things businesses should consider before choosing SD-WAN’, and will set out the argument for both SD-WAN and Private networks (MPLS).

Firstly, what is a Private Network (MPLS)?

Many organisations connect their sites together using a Private Network protocol called MPLS. MPLS uses different sites connectivity, from broadband to Ethernet, but completely separates business data from the general internet traffic with a controlled centralised firewall. This allows business sites to securely, and in a very controlled manner, send data amongst themselves, as well as access the internet itself.

SD-WAN has grown in countries where Private Networks (MPLS) are rare

MPLS is a great solution and has been around for nearly 20 years in the UK market, but would not be recognised as the most cost-effective approach in many other countries, and very importantly not in the USA. In the USA, Public Internet networks are used with sophisticated Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) to control the security and ensure the best available connectivity is used for each application.

This is where the SD-WAN CPE products come from; they have been created to service a market where the public Internet carries almost all of the traffic, and the MPLS based Private Networks are as rare as hen’s teeth, and used by exception.

The equipment manufacturers such as Cisco and Juniper are bringing these SD-WAN based CPE hardware products into their global markets, and in particular into the UK market to service the growing needs of businesses.

So how does SD-WAN work and what does it offer customers?

The SD-WAN approach will use whatever Internet facing connections are available and will route traffic from a site over the most suitable connection.

Let’s take a retailer as an example. If there is Ethernet, Broadband and 3G/4G connectivity in a site, the SD-WAN device will route store purchase traffic over the Ethernet unless if fails, and then use the 3G/4G. If the store provides the general public with store WiFi access, then it would route this from the site over the primary connectivity to segregate it from the private traffic from the organisation. So in this way it manages the priority of services, and its resiliency.

Generally, the SD-WAN equipment will be managed as a Cloud based service, and the retailer will have access to all the management statistics of the appliances itself, but also the quality of the connectivity to the appliance.

This is great insight for the retailer to have. In this way they can hold their Telco and service providers to account in terms of service availability and the quality of the connection, but they can also understand what the business is using the connectivity for. This wealth of data, such as colleague and customer WiFi use will provide insight into which customer have been in the shop, for how long, if they were omni-channel customers (looking at the website, whilst in store) etc.

In summary

SD-WAN has the potential to reduce the complexity of traditional networks and provide greater visibility and control. In the USA and other countries it might also be much more cost-effective, but the UK is a bit of an anomaly because of the low cost of MPLS networks.

This is why TalkTalk Business is focusing on providing the breadth of range of Cloud-ready connectivity options from Internet to MPLS capabilities that can be used as a platform for SD-WAN. It’s not the case that one size fits all and organisations want to use these capabilities to create Public, Private and Hybrid networks as required.

So, should businesses choose SD-WAN? Well there are downsides to SD-WAN and consideration organisations should make before choosing.

Head over to part 2 of this blog - ‘5 things to consider before choosing SD-WAN’ to learn more, or email me at Lance.Spencer@talktalkbusiness.co.uk.