How Cloud-Based SD-WAN Frees Enterprises From Appliances, Complexity & Obsolescence

How cloud-based SD-WAN frees enterprises from appliances, complexity, and obsolescence

Getting the most out of your IT expenditures is one of the most common objectives CIOs across the globe have. Given this seemingly agreeable statement, it is surprising to find, according to a Genpact Research Institute study, almost $400 billion USD may be spent on digital initiatives with inadequate return on investment.

While that’s a huge number, you may be asking. “What does this statistic have to do with enterprise WAN?” The answer is found by diving into some of the root causes the Genpact Research Institute identified for these low ROI projects: 

  • The complexity and cost created by maintaining and supporting “legacy” technology.  
  • Organizations being slow to adopt new technologies to add value to the value chain beyond front office applications.

From this perspective, we begin to see how the paradigm between sticking with legacy WAN technologies like MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) and adopting more modern WAN tech, specifically SD-WAN, serves as a microcosm for the IT spend issues we all face. 

In this piece, we’ll cover the need for SD-WAN, why plowing more money into MPLS can be a waste, and how SD-WaaS (SD Wan as a Service) can be a great way to optimize the ROI of your WAN infrastructure investments.

The need for SD-WAN

The importance of SD-WAN is becoming more and more clear as workloads become more and more cloud-based. MPLS was designed to solve a specific set of problems, namely transporting data reliably, quickly, and securely between remote locations and corporate headquarters and datacenters. MPLS bandwidth wasn’t a cheap relative to Internet bandwidth, but it solved a specific set of problems quite well for the early 2000s. 

However, as we moved into the 2010s, and cloud computing and mobile usage became ubiquitous, several flaws in the MPLS paradigm were exposed. Simply put, backhauling traffic bound for the public Internet (e.g. for services like Office 365, G-Suite, AWS, etc.) from a remote location to a corporate datacenter or HQ then onto its destination over the public Internet added unnecessary cost, latency, and complexity to enterprise WAN routing.

Why pay twice for the bandwidth (once at premium MPLS rates and once for the Internet bandwidth) to get lower performance than you could just sending the traffic over the Internet? While the argument for SD-WAN over MPLS can get much more in-depth, this overview should help conceptualize the benefits and help you understand why SD-WAN popularity is on the rise. With that in mind, we’ll dive into how the appliance-based approach to SD-WAN addressed some of the challenges related to MPLS. 

The pros and cons of DIY SD-WAN

The DIY (Do-It-Yourself) approach to SD-WAN involves organizations deploying appliances at their locations and using those to configure Policy-based Routing (PbR) to use the best transport method (e.g. ADSL, 4G LTE, Cable, MPLS, etc.) in a given scenario. This solves one of the main problems MPLS faced: it enables affordable routing of Internet-bound traffic.

However, the DIY approach to SD-WAN comes with some challenges of its own. The appliances themselves need to be maintained and configured. Not only does this inherently expose a business to the inevitable IT obsolescence any hardware will have, it also means a non-trivial amount IT resources will need to be dedicated to maintaining the infrastructure (a drawback that also exists with MPLS). 

Taking the DIY approach also means losing out on SLAs (Service Level Agreements) that enable organizations to trust that they will receive a given amount of uptime. SD-WAN generally uses the public Internet, which at times can be erratic when it comes to performance and latency. 

Further, the DIY approach generally doesn’t offer integrated network security, meaning IT will need to also source and provision security solutions like next-generation firewalls (NGFWs), Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), etc. This means more capex, more opex, and more complexity. Many times, attempts at mobile integration or deployment of new locations (also a challenge with MPLS) only compound the complexity. Additional complexity and cost are generally NOT the best recipe for ROI. 

Given that both MPLS and DIY SD-WAN have significant drawbacks in dealing with the demands of modern WANs, what is the best way to go? Should you just weigh the pros and cons and go with the lesser of two evils? Not exactly. The more modern approach to SD-WAN, SDWaaS, enables enterprises to get the benefits of SD-WAN while also addressing the challenges users of legacy SD-WAN solutions face.

The advantages of SDWaaS 

Premium SDWaaS solutions are cloud-based, connection agnostic, secure, SLA-backed SD-WAN offerings with backbones supported by Tier 1 ISPs (Internet Service Providers). As they are connection agnostic, they are able to offer the same PbR controls that appliance-based SD-WAN is known for, with some added benefits.

As they are cloud-based, SDWaaS solutions mitigate the need for costly and complex appliances, freeing up IT resources to focus on core business functions, while still enabling them to have control over their WAN infrastructure. Further, by integrating security into the solution stack, SD-WAN minimizes the need for additional IT spend on other security solutions.

DIY SD-WAN was generally only able to be used to supplement MPLS, due to the aforementioned latency and reliability concerns, and the lack of SLAs associated with many solutions. This meant that organizations often still had to retain MPLS at some level, usually for latency sensitive, critical workloads. With SDWaaS, enterprises can rely on a global, affordable, SLA-backed backbone that makes replacement of MPLS possible. Further, premium SDWaaS vendors have been designed to optimize access to key cloud applications like AWS, Azure, and more.

Finally, by residing in the cloud, SDWaaS significantly streamlines the onboarding of mobile users and provisioning of new locations. The paradigm shift to the cloud, all enterprise resources can easily connect. Not only does this reduce the complexity facing your IT staff, it enables productivity for your end users. Case in point: think of how much more productive your remote staff would be if they didn’t have to jump through hoops while trying to connect via VPN or similar technologies to access resources that reside on the corporate WAN. 

SDWaaS enables efficiency 

The takeaway for many enterprises is clear: SDWaaS can make your investments in your WAN infrastructure more efficient and effective. By investing in a premium, cloud-based SDWaaS solution you can position your organization to take an approach to enterprise WAN that is reliable, future-proof, flexible, simple to configure, and secure. In doing so, you can also help avoid seeing your IT spend end up in that roughly $400 billion a year that is wasted. 

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