He-Man and SD-WAN – become the master of your network

01 October 2018 | Chris Gilmour

Chris Gilmour

Blog Author | technical practice lead, Axians

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Whilst He-Man was a master of the universe, us mere mortals may have to lower our goals. The network is a mini-universe for network managers, but much to their dismay, they often don’t have the control or visibility over it that they’d ideally like.

To some, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is the solution to the problem of solving businesses’ digital transformation and legacy infrastructure woes. This must be handled carefully, like any hyped B2B technology, it mustn’t attempt to be a miracle solution to these complex issues. Prince Adam used the “Power of Grayskull” to transform into He-Man, but unfortunately, the business world is more nuanced.

Personally, I think that SD-WAN is really about the flexibility and agility that application-level control of the network enables; IT managers demand control and visibility for good reason. With so many businesses beginning to carry out their digital transformation strategies, it is more crucial now than ever to have real-time actionable insight into network performance. On top of that, it’s also vital that they have the adaptability to support the demands that are still yet to come, that users place on the network. Without this, poor performance or even outages could arise, and you could risk losing the customer loyalty that you’ve worked so hard to build up.

The network – the most crucial detail of all

As well as having great speed and strength, He-Man could defend with his intellect and strategy. Businesses can learn from this approach. Across all sectors, they may be committing to fast-developing digital strategies to enable a more engaging and positive customer experience, but they must not neglect the need to support these broad objectives with the finer details that will enable long-term success.

It could be said that the network is the most crucial detail of all. In the case of many network managers, legacy technology is holding back their organisation from their digital transformation goals. Yes, a lack of skills and a resistance to change at board level can also lead to a digital transformation roadblock, but so many businesses are embarking on bold digital strategies with a network that just isn’t fit for the modern day.

Avoid creating application “islands

If you are embarking on a digital strategy without giving any thought to the current infrastructure of the network to support it, you are risking the build of intelligent “islands” that only communicate with each other in a very basic manner.

To be successful with digital transformation, the network must be an integral component of the whole process, not just an afterthought. Replacing legacy equipment and improving your mastery of the network with next-generation technologies such as SD-WAN can help businesses achieve their digital strategy goals.

In the simplest terms, digital transformation can create an entirely new set of applications for the network to deal with. Problems are met if the network cannot differentiate between those services, as your business is essentially being held back by part of your own infrastructure. Effectively, deploying application-centric networking such as SD-WAN can allow you to tune your network, allowing the priority traffic to behave the way it needs to.

Be the master of your network

Many IT managers want more control and visibility over their networks. At the moment, this visibility often solely extends to a report at the end of the month detailing how much bandwidth you’ve used, or what applications have been used the most. The problem with this is that this is retrospective and doesn’t give enough insight to allow you to tune your network as you go. Next-generation WAN enables reporting that tracks and analyses end-to-end application performance in real time, so the network can quickly react to any changes.

Customer complaints about slow application performance are a major and frequent problem, which means that major network improvements must be made if businesses want to improve customer experience. SD-WAN works in conjunction with next-generation applications to help them operate properly so that the business receives the full benefit of adopting those applications in the first place.

Never underestimate the power of a software-defined future

It’s also becoming increasingly clear that the early adopters of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will dominate the business landscape in years to come. However, there are also intriguing use cases for processing the masses of data points produced across the network and made visible through the analytics engines that many SD-WAN solutions have inbuilt.

As a result of the application visibility and analytics capabilities of SD-WAN, some businesses are now collecting millions of pieces of information from every part of the network. When harnessed and analysed correctly, this information is invaluable when it comes to understanding the impact of new services, and monitoring the usage and performance of applications, allowing greater insight and leading the way to future automation.

Galactic Guardians: The importance of a trusted partner

A common catalyst for implementing SD-WAN is a desire to cut costs within the business. However, to view it simply as a money saving exercise is to miss the point slightly. We find that businesses that are becoming increasingly application-centric are successfully embracing SD-WAN because of the control and flexibility it gives their network.

This transition can’t be done alone. To implement SD-WAN across your existing network without disruption to your services, you require skilled project management and consultancy to make it a success. It is crucial to properly plan out what you want from new software or technology as a business, and track this with sensible metrics.

A slightly inferior solution, implemented properly, will be better for you as a business than a technically superior solution implemented poorly. Therefore, selecting the right partner is all-important.

SD-WAN can be your guide towards digital transformation, and in the shorter term, control over your network, if it is deployed correctly and for the right reasons. However, with great power comes great responsibility; you must use it wisely! Make sure to watch out for Skeletor...