Connections based on software-defined networking are increasingly replacing static, hardware-based architectures such as MPLS and outsourcing the control of data streams to virtualized components. This is a great opportunity for companies – but also challenges.
It is a long-held dream of mankind and the subject of some science fiction novels to acquire a digital avatar and then continue life in a virtual world free of physical ballast. What has not yet been achieved in humans is already a reality on the level of network architecture. Connections based on software-defined networking are increasingly replacing static, hardware-based architectures such as multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and outsourcing the control of data streams to virtualized components. This is a great opportunity for companies – as long as they have the right skills.
On To New Layers
MPLS topologies impress with their simple structure: There is only one type of connection through which all locations are connected. On-site hardware routers route all data traffic via the data center to the company headquarters using manual router configuration. Advantage: The network is easy to secure because there is only one central access to the Internet. But that hardly outweighs the disadvantages: With the increasing spread of the cloud, which has changed from online storage to the host of business-critical applications and data and collaboration tools that update in real time, not only is the secure transport of data packets important, but also flexible, location-independent access essential for business success. This is where MPLS connections reach their limits.
Because not only does the connection to the cloud go beyond the limits in terms of costs, the detour of the data via a central data center also makes efficient transmission impossible. There’s no other way to put it: MPLS doesn’t exactly promise the path to eternal digital life.
With SD-WAN, on the other hand, network management becomes much more complex, but also more flexible. SD-WAN has advanced to become a key technology, especially for geographically distributed companies. Because with SD-WAN, the entire network can be controlled centrally via a software-based network controller.
This not only significantly reduces the maintenance effort. Adjustments no longer have to be made manually on the routers on site, but can be carried out at the push of a button or automatically across locations. Heterogeneous connection types can also be managed in a network via SD-WAN. Due to the application-based routing principle, each application can be assigned the optimal connection type.
This is particularly advantageous for cloud connections: Depending on the configuration, sensitive data can be routed to the cloud via dedicated lines independently of the Internet. Data traffic to the cloud can generally be prioritized via additional prioritization settings, so that critical applications and data are available to all users who need to work with them at any time and without loss of performance.
Pioneer For Completely Digital Business Processes
The example of cloud and SD-WAN clearly shows how digital transformation is also driving technological development. While SD-WAN was initially “only” traded as a pioneering technology in the cloud due to the optimized data routing, the functionalities are no longer limited to an optimized path selection in company networks. SD-WAN providers are increasingly offering cloud connections directly via their platforms. They pave the way to fully digitized business processes.
A direct connection to several cloud providers is possible via so-called multi-cloud gateways. Their switch function ensures that business-critical applications take the direct route across the cloud and across networks. Companies can thus select their preferred provider depending on the application. The billing processes can be hosted at one service provider, while the collaboration software is accessed via another provider. It can also be combined with your own private clouds if information on technical innovations and developments needs to be additionally secured.
Security Despite Flexibility
The hybrid working model must be included in the security concept. This leads to a large number of local accesses to central infrastructures. The firewalls, which are still located at the central location of a company, can no longer secure this new type of cooperation without any problems. Integrated services such as remote access via SD-WAN based on Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) offer a solution: SASE describes a network architecture that combines SD-WAN functions with cloud-native security services, thus protecting all types of access and applications up to the edge of the network. The access rights for each user can be assigned according to position, function and company via an online portal.
In particular, SD-WAN providers with their own backbone can provide this complex network structure with high stability and a reliable user experience. Because the more direct connections a network provider has to the Points of Presence (PoPs) of the cloud platforms, the faster connections can be implemented. The proximity to the cloud operators is therefore an important indicator of the speed of the service, the service quality and user-friendliness.
Additional integrated services such as analysis platforms for monitoring network activities not only relieve the company’s IT, but also ensure that network problems are quickly resolved. Using artificial intelligence and self-learning evaluation systems, irregularities can be proactively detected so that they cannot have a negative impact on service quality or even lead to a failure. In times when reliable availability and communication are more important than ever for business, companies should exhaust all possibilities to set up their systems fail-safe.
Only Affordable As A Managed Service?
With all the requirements, many companies ask themselves whether they are able to manage such a complex network structure in-house. Even if software-based structures make some work easier – as mentioned at the beginning, they make the manual configuration of hardware obsolete. However, SD-WAN management is still a long way from “zero touch” and it is advisable to make a realistic self-assessment in advance.
Because even the service concepts that promise maintenance with just a few clicks require extensive know-how in the advance configuration: This includes, for example, the adjustment of the respective position of the router in the network, the number of access lines, the bandwidth and the corresponding access technologies. And that does not mean that all safety requirements have been met. In particular, the Zero Trust security approach assumes that all network traffic is untrustworthy.
Appropriate security tools must therefore ensure that data traffic meets the strict security criteria so that data exchange in the network works smoothly. In view of the large number of devices that have to be connected to the network, this is a mammoth task despite the integrated security functions (see above).
A managed service can remedy this and relieve the internal IT teams. In addition, the use of an external team can mean cost savings in the long term, in addition to better planning of the budget. In addition to eliminating expensive further training measures, they give internal employees more time to work on sales-boosting projects.
Without a doubt, software-based network management has opened up a whole new world with SD-WAN. In order to be able to fully use the potential of the technology, a large number of competencies are required. Only with the use of the right services can the new cooperation and value creation models be used profitably. It is also advisable to look for a suitable partner who not only has the appropriate bandwidth capacity, but also has the expertise to secure complex network architectures.