Today’s businesses have zero tolerance for network or communications downtime. Banks can’t afford to have transactions stalled, waiting for a backup system to kick in. Hospitals can’t lose patient data. Factories need to keep the production lines moving. If their networks go down during a game, sports teams can lose merchandise and concession sales. Ensuring network and application uptime is the number one concern we hear from our customers all the time.
Fortunately, there are smart and cost-effective ways to stay ahead of potential disruptions. Your network can stay highly available with a well-designed software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN), an approach that avoids the costs associated with extensive redundant equipment and connectivity.
Power outages can cause network blackouts that result in all equipment failing at once, or physical damage to communications lines, such as a cut of a fiber or cable line. Network equipment failures may disrupt certain circuits while traffic overloads could result in significant deterioration of service. While a blackout (total loss of connectivity) is what most businesses are concerned about, brownouts (partial loss, service deterioration or temporary shutdowns) can also significantly affect productivity, quality of data, and the customer and employee experience.
There are various ways to address those risks depending on the source of the disruption. You can install power backups, but those often result in at least a temporary loss of data. Or you could set up multiple redundant WANs, but they’re expensive and difficult to manage in a physical network environment.
The beauty of an SD-WAN is that it can help you orchestrate the response to the various risks just listed. By establishing which network traffic should be a high priority in the case of a failure, the critical data keeps moving and gets prioritized over less essential services. Predetermined failover protocols reassign network priority in real-time based on application-aware traffic, requiring less need for human intervention. Leveraging multiple connectivity options and carrier diversity is also much more manageable in a software-defined network. You can maintain your existing MPLS connectivity or transport from multiple service providers as well as 4G LTE cellular backup - all using SD-WAN.
How do I know there’s a problem and how quickly will I know about it? An SD-WAN with a network management platform ensures visibility into the overall network, helps establish where the issues lie and can make the necessary adjustments automatically. In contrast, in a traditional hardware-based multi-WAN approach, the remediation may require physically inspecting and adjusting each component. In addition to identifying points of failure within the WAN, an SD-WAN could help identify external traffic spikes, such as those caused by DDoS attacks to help redirect the network response.
An enterprise expecting high availability–often standardized as 99.999% availability–would require some level of redundancy and diversity, such as multiple networks and redundant equipment. Backup circuits and equipment are now the norms to ensure high uptime. Customers continue to request support for Active-Active and Active-Passive configurations on their redundant uCPEs at a location. It is important to have the right solution architect design this for you based on your needs, desired network behaviors, and budget.
A smarter way to contain costs and still ensure the necessary network availability is to look for vendors who subscribe to open networking standards and universal equipment (uCPE), and who can provide the redundancy in the architecture without lots of proprietaries based licensing fees.
As your organization and network footprint grow, it is important to keep a close eye on network capacity to ensure highly available networks. Thus, it is important to consider an SD-WAN provider who can provide visibility, agility AND delivery of additional network capacity without additional hardware and infrastructure expenditures.
There is also a common misconception that treating the SD-WAN solution as separate and distinct from the underlying transport would help add to the redundancy and reliability of the overall network solution. That’s really not the case. Firstly, a single provider would be better able to guarantee SLAs. Secondly, marrying a deep understanding of the underlying network and the SD-WAN solution would allow your provider to more effectively architect your networks and also bring the right level of bandwidth. Post-implementation, your single provider will be better able to provide analyses of the circuits and volumes thereby pinpointing service issues due to inadequate bandwidth. However, a core premise of SD-WAN is the flexibility of multiple transport providers, so choose an SD-WAN vendor that can accommodate and even facilitate it on your behalf.
SD-WAN is best seen as part of an overall network strategy, not just a software solution in itself. It’s also important to think of high availability both in terms of your own network as well as the reliability of the communication service provider underlying network. And if you still want to retain your dedicated connectivity such as your legacy MPLS lines, that’s fine. An SD-WAN solution can help you orchestrate and manage both. If you want to replace it entirely with SD-WAN, that’s an option too. But in either case, you’ll be better off going with a provider who brings their critical assets to the table (people, products, network) by delivering the new and not defending legacy networking technologies. SDN providers in 2020 and beyond need to be future facing, by focusing on the 10x instead of 10% and being mindful of solution design, with an eye towards users more than buyers.
Learn more about our SD-WAN solution at https://business.comcast.com/sdn/sd-wan.