Building the network of the future

How virtualization can be the answer to the ever-increasing requirements for communications networks

The proliferation of digital services is leading to a significant increase of IP traffic globally. Traditional Wide Area Networks (WAN) are the backbone of global connectivity but lack the ability to cope with the demand for flexibility, scalability and even cost efficiency. New technologies such as Software Defined WAN (SD-WAN) provide businesses the tools to scale and manage their networks.

Business requirements are changing

With a new era of massive digital consumption, more and more services rely on the enterprises telecommunications network. This poses new challenges across various areas of the networks, from scalability to security and performance to cost. Being able to cope with the increase in demand will be key for every organisation.

Recent studies show that the adoption of cloud services is booming globally, with around 80% of enterprises even planning to move away from their traditional datacentres due to cloud misfit (1). At the same time, 87% of enterprises (1) have already adopted or are planning to adopt Internet based connectivity as its main WAN technology, in detriment of MPLS. These will change the way traffic flows on the networks, requiring more flexibility and security than even before.

With more and more people working remotely, 45% of IT managers (1) are reporting complaints of application underperformance. More often than not, the issues are related with user connectivity to the applications, which are be linked to the network architecture. Adding to the increasing requirements towards the networks, automation is still far from the mainstream, with 70% of network tasks still performed manually (1) .

The shift from on premise to cloud based applications and from MPLS to Internet based connectivity requires IT managers to rethink their approach to enterprise networking. Features related to scalability, security and performance become even more important in a world where cost optimisation is a constant priority.

Enterprise networks need to evolve

Traditional enterprise networks rely on MPLS circuits from telecom service providers to connect their sites to main datacentres, where corporate applications are hosted and Internet gateways located. For companies with various sites distributed ge ographically, this will become a problem, as the network becomes a bottleneck for accessing corporate and cloud based applications. In most cases this leads to an increased network spend, as additional MPLS capacity is required to accommodate all the traffic, and performance issues, whenever there is congestion on the links.

To mitigate this problem, enterprises are moving towards a hybrid WAN architecture, with the utilisation of both MPLS and Internet based connections. With this architecture, sites are directly connected to the Internet and still have a MPLS connection to the enterprise datacentre. Non-critical traffic, such as web browsing, is securely offloaded directly to the Internet while corporate applications hosted on the enterprise datacentre can still be reached through the dedicated MPLS circuits.

Having the local Internet breakouts on each site reduces the pressure on the enterprise MPLS backbone. It also provides the scalability and flexibility required, as Internet capacity can more easily be changed according to the company’s requirements. From a cost perspective, there is usually a reduction of up to 25% in network recurring costs when moving from a MPLS based network towards a hybrid WAN (1).

While significantly reducing the load on the MPLS network, there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed when implementing a hybrid WAN, such as automation and security. Introducing a different connectivity technology on site requires the ability to manage both network and traffic effectively (e.g., defining which traffic uses the MPLS and which uses the Internet links). As such, automation becomes even more important in the context of a hybrid WAN. In addition to this, Internet based connectivity does not provide the same service and security levels as MPLS, which means additional security mechanisms are required to enable the utilization of the hybrid WAN and still meet the enterprise’s security requirements.

Virtualization is the solution

To cope with the challenges associated with a hybrid WAN architecture, enterprises are exploring virtualization solutions. Similarly to the compute and storage virtualization solutions that are widely used by companies globally, network virtualization is gaining traction and being more and more used by enterprises.

Software Defined Networking applied to the WAN is a software solution that provides a mechanism for improving traffic management across MPLS and Internet links. From a technology perspective, SD-WAN abstracts the underlying transport solution to provide seamless hybrid WAN connectivity. The solution provides a number of features that enable companies to take the most out of their WAN. On the security level, end-to-end traffic encryption is available, alongside security policies that are centrally defined and implemented across the entire network in an automated way. Moreover, the centralized management platform enables visibility over the entire network, while allowing for real-time scaling of network resources. SD-WAN also acts as an enabler to improve network performance, through features such as dynamic routing path selection, which optimises the utilization of the available connections for both on-premise and cloud traffic, and automation with zero-touch provisioning capabilities.

In summary, enterprises are responding to the ever-increasing digitalization requirements with a hybrid approach towards the WAN, using both MPLS and Internet based connectivity. Network virtualization solutions such as SD-WAN provide the capabilities for enterprises to take the most of out their WAN, with flexibility, scalability, security and automation features. With the proliferation of cloud services, the ability to quickly and effectively adapt the WAN to the users and applications requirements, while keeping an optimal network cost structure, is going to be key any IT organisation.


(1) Sources: Gartner, Cisco, IDC, Nokia EMEA, SDx Central, Deloitte.

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