SD-WAN – the smarter route to traffic prioritisation

SD-WAN provides a Sat Nav to better network performance which bypasses expensive connection upgrades

Time and technology wait for no man, and companies today know they have to constantly adapt and change if they are to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving market for IT products and services. Many see digital transformation of existing architecture, processes and business strategies as key to those ambitions but are less clear on the best way to begin.

Digitisation is likely to need updates and upgrades to multiple elements of existing IT infrastructure, chief amongst which is the underlying network that carries data between on- and off-premise systems and enables applications and services to be automatically provisioned to reduce delivery and maintenance costs.

There is also a clear imperative to work out how new technology can improve the way services are currently provisioned, and establish new revenue streams by getting innovative products quickly to market.

“Companies may use virtual or augmented reality to support B2B2C models that can drive end user customer engagements to get more business for example,” said Axians UK managing director Russell Crampin at a press event this year [2017].

“That could be a completely new model for those companies – new apps, digital sites, big screens driving updates, rich content and catalogues of information previously only available at headquarters. But is their network ready, can it support those workloads?”

Expanded use of mobile apps to access that content can also have an impact on the underlying network infrastructure, particularly if it lacks the capacity and flexibility to cope with fluctuations in data traffic that may undermine the end user experience and ultimately lead to cancelled or lost transactions.

“The question is, can their business change as fast as it needs to or only as quickly as IT allows it to make that change?” said Crampin. “Or does the IT department say ‘great, give us nine months and we’ll get that up and running for you’”.

 SD-WAN provides network Sat Nav

Axians’ technical practice manager Chris Gilmour compares the convergence of physical and virtual networks as adding Satellite Navigation capabilities to existing infrastructure.

“You can keep patching the road network in perpetuity but it comes to a point where you cannot build new networks and it becomes more about how you can use existing networks better,” he said.

“We see more devices connecting to data networks – everybody has a phone, laptop, tablet and smartwatch – and that quadruples the load. If we have 35bn devices including smart building LEDs, Power over Ethernet LiFi systems and personal healthcare devices for example, that will increase the amount of traffic further.”

Just as motorways now use smart gantries to analyse the speed of traffic and change speed limits and lane allocation in real time to keep things moving. Gilmour believes the same thing can be done with data networks using SD-WAN’s traffic management capabilities.

“Different types of traffic have different requirements on how it goes from A to B,” he said. “SD-WAN allows you to handle data differently based on the information it contains and how important it is.”

Service providers avoid costly bandwidth upgrades

Many organisations currently use a mixture of business broadband, leased lines, MPLS and even satellite links to interconnect multiple offices and industrial locations in different cities and countries, each of which offers varying levels of bandwidth, availability and cost.

The application awareness feature integral to Axians’ SD-WAN proposition can monitor each link dynamically to work out which of those connection paths are currently clear, and which are congested in order to reroute traffic elsewhere. It can also aggregate data onto cheaper or more expensive infrastructure depending on time and performance requirements.

Axians is already working on several SD-WAN deployments in partnership with equipment suppliers Juniper Networks, Versa and Silver Peak.

“There was a real example where a customer had three DSL lines at one site – one dedicated to voice and one for guest WiFi where utilisation was around 20-40%, and another one for data that was battered 90% of the time,” said Gilmour.

“The company needed to send bigger files across its network, but that data was taking days to get through because the traffic was a low priority. If you have hundreds of sites out there, the cost of putting in bigger pipes, like MPLS, is prohibitive.”

“Similarly if you could go and buy a fourth DSL line, but if you multiply that by several hundred sites it would take 9 months to complete and cost a seven figure sum. SD-WAN gives them more flexibility much more quickly, and provides something that is agile for the future too.”

VINCI Energies tackles industrial digitisation

Axians is also helping its parent company VINCI Energies to optimise network infrastructure for VINCI clients. VINCI provides electrical, data and communications networks for companies in various industry verticals and focusses on smart building, factory, city and transportation deployments that depend heavily on secure, reliable network connectivity to collect and analyse data being generated by industrial systems.

Andrew Hunter, director of Actemium UK and VINCI Energies UK and Ireland, describes the network as the glue which supports the increasing digitalisation of business processes enabled by VINCI’s Actemium and Omexom divisions. Between them these offer a range of consulting, design, development, testing and installation services to customers in the aerospace automotive, energy generation, utilities, mining, rail, logistics and retail industries.

Projects include everything from RFID monitoring, artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analysis through to personalised vehicles, 3D printing and robotics. Many car makers are retro-fitting equipment with IoT solutions to support real time decision making.

Whilst AR, VR, 3D printing, robotics and IoT may push the boundaries of WAN performance in the near term, the IT industry is a fluent and rapidly developing environment and networks must be sufficiently flexible to cope with the application and service demands for the next five to ten years.

Throwing bandwidth at the problem is not always the most effective answer to that challenge, and SD-WAN could prove a lower cost solution which is faster to deploy in the meantime.

Learn More about SD-WAN with Axians here 

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