SD-WAN in a South African Context

Let’s discuss SD-WAN and its purpose from a South African context. The Telecoms market has evolved drastically where best of breed architecture such as MPLS is now becoming redundant due to cost reductions in last-mile links. A couple of years ago, bandwidth was quite expensive, and customers wanting to adopt an SD-WAN Topology could not be due to the cost to deploy large Internet pipes. The ISP market has also become extremely competitive where bandwidth costs have dropped by 40% over the last couple of years making bandwidth affordable for customers to look at alternative architectures such as SD-WAN.

Below are four key benefits which Clients can realise when migrating to SD-WAN Topologies such as:

  1. Increased Security on applications accessing cloud-based systems
  2. Increased Bandwidth opting for Broadband Big Fat Pipe options
  3. Network visibility and understanding and viewing application performance in real time
  4. Ease of Management where IT Staff have the ability to make changes and deploy new policies via a central orchestrator over multiple sites.

The key reason why clients should be investing in an SD-WAN Architecture is the adoption of cloud-based services. We are seeing that organisations are investing in building ISP Redundancy to ensure that they are “always” connected to consume these cloud-based applications. Due to the pandemic, we have seen a large growth in the adoption of cloud-based services, where services such as Azure, AWS, Office 365 are being provisioned allowing users to access these key applications over a reliable internet connection.

A key driver to migrate to SD-WAN Architecture is to give organisations the ability to access and consume cloud-based applications securely and with quick responses. However, migrating to an SD-WAN Architecture should be done in a phased approach. Instead of migrating all sites to SD-WAN Topology, clients should look at hybrid options, where existing MPLS links should be augmented with Broadband using an SD-WAN architecture. From a best practice perspective, this approach is recommended, as it reduces the risk and downtime of a full migration to a new architecture.

Another key driver for SD-WAN adoption is the cost of bandwidth dropping dramatically and the second driver is the adoption of cloud-based services. It’s imperative that clients invest in building ISP redundancy to ensure that they are always connected and are able to access their applications no matter where users are based. SD-WAN as new technology and is still in its early days, but once clients see the value and it addresses their security concerns, we will see that SD-WAN Topologies will become the mainstream architecture that organisations adopt.

Due to the pandemic and users working from home, cloud-based adoption has been fast-tracked, as companies now realise that if systems are not cloud-based users are unable to perform their functions as if they were at the office. We have seems a big uptake on O365, Teams and other cloud services, where users are able to communicate via email and have meetings / collaborate over Teams. Companies have also realised that WFH Strategy may become the new “normal” where users are even more productive from home as opposed to being at the office. As long as users KPI’s are defined and they have the necessary tools to function from home, we will see more and more organisations adopting a WFH Strategy.

As a result of the pandemic, organisations have needed to fast track their digital transformation sooner than expected. The pandemic has shown that organisations that do not have a digital strategy, struggle to be relevant during these times. The more systems that an organisation has that are cloud-based, the more an organisation can be agile and have the ability to make quicker decisions in these trying times.

With any technology, there are huge investments to make technology quicker and faster. MPLS Architectures were best of breed for a number of years, but with more organisations adopting cloud-based services, the need for quality of service on MPLS links have become redundant. Clients require large internet pipes to access cloud-based services securely and efficiently.

I also think that SD-WAN as architecture will evolve and we may see WFH Strategies surpassing SD-WAN as architecture. If users do not return back to an office environment, more emphasis will be put on users homes, making these environments more secure and robust to access organisations critical applications.

With Load Shedding currently being experienced in South Africa, the need to be always connected has become important, hence users/organisations may need supplement power to key devices such as connectivity and laptops to ensure that they are able to perform their basic functions from home. We are seeing organisations offering home users inverters to ensure that in load shedding periods, users can still operate during these periods of no power.

From a Connectivity perspective, the price of bandwidth has dropped dramatically where large Broadband Internet Pipes are more affordable to allow cloud adoption.

Security is also a key item, as SD-WAN devices have security features built into these devices. The first and most important function is the Firewall component which secures all connections to enterprise and cloud applications. The 2nd function that the SD-WAN provides is the ability to dynamically route traffic over multiple links and opting for the best performing link in real-time. Through this, critical applications will always receive the highest priority over the MPLS or SD-WAN bandwidth provisioned.

The third and one of the most important components of SD-WAN Architectures, it allows organisations to have full visibility of their network. IT Departments have the ability to view application performance in real-time and are able to make the necessary adjustments instantaneously to ensure applications are able to perform optimally 24×7.

The pandemic has caused a lot of certainties to determine what the “new normal” will look like in the future. I personally think a lot of key decisions makers in organisations are concerned about making architecture decisions as users may not return to the office as we were used to prior to the pandemic. I think more emphasis will be put on migrating applications to the cloud and ensuring users that work from home have reliable and secure communications to access applications. These two factors could be reasons why SD-WAN Investments are on the decline.

By Louis Jardim, co-founder and COO of Turrito Networks

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