Is Your Wide-Area Network Keeping Up? - Modern Distribution Management

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Is Your Wide-Area Network Keeping Up?

With corporate computer networks significantly strained by the hybrid work environment, this piece explores why software-defined networks can improve traffic management and protection.
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Coming out of the pandemic, organizations everywhere are re-evaluating their operations and seeking new ways to improve performance and efficiency. At the same time, they’re still under pressure to continue supporting remote employees who continue to telecommute rather than work inside the office. Will conventional wide-area network (WAN) architectures be able to keep up?

Spoiler alert: the answer is no. With many users connecting to the corporate network remotely, bandwidth contention and traffic congestion have become serious issues.

Designed primarily to support email and Internet access for branch offices, decades-old WANs simply can’t keep pace with the exponential growth in demand for remote network access, cloud connectivity and bandwidth-hungry communication and collaboration applications. Consider this: nearly 80% of remote workers reported having technology issues when connecting to corporate systems and resources in a recent global survey.

Against that backdrop, we’re now seeing increased adoption of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions that improve traffic management, optimize application performance, control costs and boost security. Indeed, the SD-WAN market is expected to see a compound annual growth of 31.2 percent through 2030, according to P&S Intelligence.

Here are some of the ways SD-WAN solutions resolve the challenges of remote computing at scale:

Better Traffic Management

Legacy WAN solutions require expensive dedicated circuits or multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) links to interconnect locations. Web traffic is backhauled to headquarters due to the inherent unreliability of Internet connections. SD-WAN enables organizations to blend transport types such as MPLS, broadband Internet, cellular and satellite to provide optimal connectivity to large numbers of remote users. If a link fails, traffic is automatically routed over another link to maintain the connections.

Application Optimization

SD-WAN is an application-aware technology, which means it can identify and classify apps based on a variety of characteristics and then apply optimization techniques to ensure peak performance. For instance, it can determine whether you have enough available bandwidth to support latency-sensitive voice and video applications. If not, the solution can throttle less-sensitive apps to carve out sufficient bandwidth for high-priority workloads.

Improved Cloud Connections

Remote employees are highly dependent on cloud applications and services. However, conventional WANs create latency issues when they backhaul Internet traffic to the data center, leading to dropped connections and inconsistent application performance. SD-WAN eliminates this problem by moving traffic along optimal branch connections without backhauling, creating a more predictable user experience.

Enhanced Security

Traditional WANs have always created security risks where they connect to multiple branch and remote locations. SD-WANs integrate several essential security measures, including end-to-end encryption, enterprise firewall, virtual private networking, intrusion prevention, unified threat management, URL filtering and malware sandboxing.

Network Segmentation

SD-WANs further improve security by enabling segmentation to isolate data and application access at the user level. This helps ensure that malware or some other threat introduced through one user’s endpoint device can’t spread throughout the entire network. In addition, mission-critical traffic and assets can be partitioned and protected against vulnerabilities in other parts of the organization.

Increased Visibility

With so many users and devices now heavily dependent on the Internet for data and application access, the crush of demand can create blind spots that traditional monitoring solutions don’t address. However, thanks to advanced analytics capabilities, most SD-WAN solutions deliver insights into application performance as well as in the underlying SD-WAN network infrastructure. In some cases, the SD-WAN platform can then use the analysis to adjust automatically to improve application performance.

But while the shift to remote and hybrid work models has changed network usage patterns in ways that are pushing legacy WAN architectures beyond their functional limits, SD-WAN solutions can eliminate those challenges through better traffic management, application optimization and increased visibility.

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