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Is your business ready for next-gen networking?

Many organizations are looking to leverage the next generation of networking technology, SD-WAN. Here’s what you need to know before the transition.

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Software-defined wide-area networks, or SD-WANs, are poised to improve the speed and efficiency with which some organizations – namely businesses with multiple branches – are able to perform networking functions. Unlike traditional WANs, which route traffic through a centralized data point, these next-generation networks automatically and dynamically optimize the routing of traffic between branch offices and data centres, delivering improved performance. With centralized management, SD-WANs also deliver additional benefits such as improved network visibility, centralized network management and quick scalability.

And although SD-WAN offerings have yet to reach maturity with only six percent of Canadian businesses beginning to adopt SD-WAN, the vast majority – 71 percent – say they have plans to do so in the future.[1]

“71 percent of Canadian enterprises say they plan to adopt SD-WAN technology in the coming years.”

IDC Canada, Business Communications Survey 2017, October 2017

What’s holding businesses back? As with any emerging technology, vendor fragmentation and a lack of consensus about standards are among the concerns causing many organizations to take a wait-and-see approach. But, there are steps enterprises can take now to ensure they are ready for SD-WAN.

Most importantly, leveraging SD-WAN technology will require organizations to rethink their approach to network security. Traditionally, internet access to branches occurred via the data centre; but SD-WANs require direct connectivity from branches, helping to optimize network traffic and increase vulnerabilities for unprepared organizations.

Here’s what you can do now to prepare for SD-WAN adoption:

1. Scale your security strategy: Traditional WANs allow for a simpler approach to security because they only require a single connection point to the internet. The multiple connections required by SD-WANs increase a network’s attack surface. But the added vulnerability can be managed with a robust security strategy. Instead of managing threats and vulnerabilities at a single source, businesses will need to address these issues at the branch level. DDoS attacks nearly doubled in 2017, and the data reveal that this trend will continue upward in 2018. To ensure readiness for SD-WAN, organizations should have a multi-layered security strategy in place, including DDoS protection and next-generation firewalls, all of which should be rapidly deployed to multiple branch sites.

2. Staffing and event management: Multi-site connectivity will introduce new complexities to IT staffing. From a security perspective, it is important to ensure that either existing IT staff or a managed service provider can provide round-the-clock proactive network monitoring to quickly identify and address threats and compliance risks. (On the plus side, SD-WAN’s enhanced network visibility and centralized control make this task less onerous than it may seem.).

3. Ensure your providers have business-class service levels: While greater network reliability is one of the main reasons to adopt SD-WAN, the greater number of connection points that come with it means faster response times to problems are even more important. Service levels for consumers and enterprises may vary dramatically, and even if they offer network services geared to businesses, not all vendors can provide business-class service-level objectives. Given the high costs associated with downtime, as you prepare to transition to SD-WAN, it’s important to ensure your provider can and will respond to outages and other problems within hours, not days.

Even if organizations aren’t yet ready to fully embrace SD-WAN, it’s important to start preparing now for the inevitable transition and reap the inevitable benefits.

[1] IDC Canada, Business Communications Survey 2017, October 2017 (PowerPoint provided by Paul Howarth; referenced in linked webinar)