Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

SD-WAN and Enterprise Transformation 

Whether its increased mobility, the migration of critical applications to the cloud or the adoption of SaaS, today’s modern enterprise is all about connectivity. Employees can now efficiently interact with real-time data and applications across the edges of the organization and provide richer customer experiences.


But enhanced connectivity is just the first leg of the digital transformation journey. The next phase is embracing technologies such as AI, augmented reality, predictive analytics and robotic process automation, which are fueling demand for increased bandwidth and better network performance. Legacy data networks based on multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) were not designed for cloud and SaaS connectivity and adding circuits is expensive. Networks are now application centric as opposed to IP packet-based, and that demands architectural change.

A key part of business evolution is the build-out of an advanced network based on software-defined networking (SDN) principles that brings the benefits of virtualization to networking. Using software to better manage wide-area networks can make IT work smarter, faster and at lower cost. Here’s how:

 A Centralized Network across a Distributed Enterprise

IT managers have long struggled with managing branch offices. Historically, when a new office needed access to the Internet, network managers routed that connection to a corporate data center with big pipes to the Internet and various security mechanisms filtering it. But hub-and-spoke MPLS network architecture is cumbersome as data movement becomes more varied. SD-WAN makes it easier to manage low-cost broadband connections at branch locations. Branch office locations can have the same access to technology as headquarters, leading to increases in productivity, customer satisfaction and revenue.

Additionally, SD-WAN adds a control layer over a business’s existing network infrastructure, enabling IT to centralize the management of critical network functions, reduce the need for costly equipment and provisioning times, and allow for better management of traffic across a network.

Cost Reduction and Increased Speed

In legacy network architectures, each network function is tied to a physical piece of equipment.  Therefore, each location within the enterprise has the same technology stack that includes multiple boxes to support each network function. It is simply no longer feasible to spend hours of experienced network staff time adjusting hardware and configurations on individual routers to deal with frequent traffic changes. With SD-WAN, one piece of equipment can support multiple virtualized networks at each location, minimizing hardware purchasing, configuration and maintenance costs. Policies can be centrally managed and pushed down to one, some or all of the locations with one click of a button and without the need for physical site visits or complex coding.

Prioritizing, Routing and Managing Traffic across all Networks

Software-driven networks are the foundation for growth. IT managers are asking for near 100 percent network uptime and resiliency at all locations using a variety of WAN links from different carriers. They provide not only visibility and control across the organization, but more importantly, the ability to prioritize traffic and applications. Because not all network traffic is of equal importance, IT can create policies for prioritizing bandwidth, in turn, improving network reliability and application performance for all connected devices and applications across all locations.

SD-WAN also allows end users to identify, prioritize and steer traffic across their network ecosystem, selecting the optimal path they want traffic to traverse in order to help improve application performance and optimize their network investments. It provides business access to network and application performance data. Because the network is software-defined, there is an ability to provide near-real-time insights into how employees are using the network and how the network is performing across an entire organization. This visibility allows businesses to prioritize network traffic to achieve desired application performance.

Empowering Employees and Driving Customer Experience

Any type of business can utilize SD-WAN. For example, retailers are deploying SD-WAN to create the best online and in-store shopping experience to compete with the likes of Amazon. For a hotel, SD-WAN means delivering in-room entertainment that makes the traveler feel like she’s in her living room. For a fast-food restaurant, it means ordering from a mobile app and having your food delivered as soon as you walk in the door – no waiting.

With consistent and reliable connectivity, faster provisioning, and direct public cloud access at local branch offices, customers receive service that can help improve in-store sales and overall customer satisfaction. With the branch office now having the same access to technology as the corporate headquarters, remote workers can take advantage of the latest productivity tools and applications, empowering them to deliver a better customer experience.

Jody Hagemann is senior director, product management, Comcast Business.