Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) has been making big headlines lately as the next frontier for enterprise networking and a better approach to handling the high-bandwidth requirements of the modern workplace, including the increasing adoption of cloud-based applications for information technologies (IT) and unified communications and collaboration (UC&C).
SD-WAN technology promises not only to simplify branch office networking and the delivery of WAN services, but also touts application performance improvements and lower costs compared to traditional and less flexible network techniques such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Internet Virtual Private Networking (VPN).
Research firm IDC is watching this market develop and estimates that SD-WAN revenues worldwide will surpass $6 billion in 2020, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate or CAGR of 90% over 2015-2020. IDC cites a recent U.S. survey that shows as many as half of enterprises will consider a migration to SD-WAN over the next two years. Gartner also weighs in, predicting that 30% of enterprises will actually deploy SD-WAN technology in their branch offices by the end of 2019.
The SD-WAN Approach
We turned to Chris Cameron, President of Accent, for his expertise on the SD-WAN approach and its benefits, particularly as these relate to cloud-delivered telephony and unified communications. Ohio-based Accent is a national provider of telecommunications services and solutions, including cloud telephony services based primarily on either Zultys or ShoreTel technologies depending on customer needs. About a year ago, the company began beta testing cloud-based SD-WAN technology powered by VeloCloud, and in early 2016, rolled this out to customers as an alternative to using more expensive MPLS for delivery of its VoiceOne business communications cloud offering.
What is SD-WAN in simple terms?
In simplified terms, SD-WAN is a cloud-based software-defined networking technique that utilizes the public Internet to connect geographically-dispersed sites within an enterprise network, including branch offices. Unlike earlier WAN technology that typically involves fixed circuits and proprietary hardware, SD-WAN virtualizes the network control and moves it to the “cloud,” with a flexible, software approach.
SD-WAN enables the intelligent selection of the best path for network data using proprietary software algorithms which factor in critical WAN metrics such as available bandwidth, latency, jitter and packet loss. The WAN is actively monitored in real-time and traffic flows are “steered” automatically around network problems to ensure optimal application performance. SD-WAN employs some specialized techniques to ensure successful packet delivery over the Internet such as Forward Error Correction (FEC) that corrects for packet loss on poor performing circuits by retransmitting lost packets. And, unlike MPLS, SD-WAN is decoupled (separated or abstracted) from any specific carrier and can leverage multiple Internet circuits from multiple carriers simultaneously in a bonded manner to select the best circuit type (fiber, cable, DSL and 4G-LTE, etc.) for a particularly critical application or for failover.
Generally, what are the key benefits?
The SD-WAN approach touts a number of benefits over traditional private WAN networking solutions such as MPLS. These include:
- Network simplification (virtualizes network control and moves it to the cloud)
- Automatic adjustment of traffic flows (dynamic steering of traffic toward the optimal Internet link on a per packet basis)
- Maximizes bandwidth resources (customized policies can prioritize real-time applications)
- Better performance (uses techniques such as multi-carrier bonding and “forward error correction”)
- Real-time monitoring and management tools (a deep level of visibility into the network)
- Reduces costs (use of the public Internet is more economical than private MPLS)
What are the specific advantages related to cloud UC?
SD-WAN is relatively new in the market, but the technology is quickly being recognized as critical to the quality of cloud-based telephony and unified communications. Some cloud UC providers are beginning to complement their UC services with SD-WAN to ensure Quality of Service (QoS) over public Internet connections or in combination with MPLS network services. Either way, SD-WAN adds real-time packet optimization, network performance monitoring and failover capabilities that add up to higher quality communications overall.
Businesses are increasingly incorporating video and other bandwidth-intensive cloud-based applications into their operations. SD-WAN provides unprecedented insights into the performance of an organizations WAN and whether or not those applications are performing as expected. The monitoring and management tools which accompany an SD-WAN service can provide businesses with multiple layers of critical performance data including:
- Circuit throughput/bandwidth
- Circuit status (up/down) including real-time alerting
- Application-based traffic demand
- Device-based traffic demand
- Historical performance reporting
Are there unique aspects to Accent’s CloudSDN?
Accent’s “Cloud SDN” solution (powered by VeloCloud) brings all the aforementioned benefits in terms of network simplification, performance improvements, failover and cost savings versus traditional VPN or MPLS techniques. But, Accent goes a step further by fully implementing, managing and monitoring the solution for the customer.
With Accent’s Cloud SDN managed service, the VeloCloud Edge appliance is installed at each customer location to connect the customer’s communications infrastructure to the SD-WAN via the public Internet. The Edge device provides a window and deep level of visibility into real-time network and application performance. Using a web browser-based dashboard, Accent engineers are able to monitor real-time performance data, network utilization statistics and critical circuit details for every location. With this intelligence, traffic control decisions are made on-the-fly to ensure all communications continue to run efficiently.
What’s next for SD-WAN as it relates to cloud telephony and UC?
The SD-WAN market is still evolving and will continue to mature for several years. Meanwhile, SD-WAN penetration will grow substantially and become a widely adopted mode of delivering a managed cloud VoIP experience to the customer via the public Internet. Current and future applications of SD-WAN are vast with respect to cloud VoIP. And, service providers like Accent are in a good position to deliver an all-in-one bundle of managed services, combining cloud VoIP, UC, SD-WAN and circuit management to provide a software-based suite of carrier services over any Internet connection.