Real World SD-WAN: Gaining Agility, Enhancing CX & EX, and Cutting Costs

Art of networked world.

The New Drivers for Rapid SD-WAN Adoption 

SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) is one of the fastest growing enterprise technologies, with adoption projected to grow at ~30% annually. Over the past several years the benefits of SD-WAN have been widely communicated. At the same time, recent research has revealed interesting new trends in adoption as well as usage. The requirements to enable digital business with new applications and devices are front and center, as is the need to enhance customer experience at every touchpoint. Security concerns are top of mind. And the networks that support them, more specifically companies’ WANs, require the agility to respond to significant swings in inside and outside traffic patterns. In this white paper, we will discuss those findings and  present industry-specific real-world success stories demonstrating how our customers have used our SD-WAN solution to enhance employee productivity, improve customer experience, automate and streamline network management, cut costs, and more.  

Improve Application Performance Boosting Digital Business

In the earlier years of SD-WAN adoption, simplifying  network management and optimizing network costs were the primary drivers for mid-market and enterprise companies to seek out software-defined networking solutions. As more companies are deploying new applications to enable digital business, improving application performance has quickly become the top driver for SD-WAN, together with the need to improve WAN availability, according to an IDG report. Even before the unprecedented digital demands of the global pandemic, companies of all sizes were looking to enhance the customer digital experience directly or to enable employees to provide better customer service and increase productivity. 

There is simply no way to achieve the agility required by new applications, new locations, new business models and new customer and user requirements with existing legacy networks. And as far as networks go, the old demarcation lines between internal and cloud-hosted applications, as well as internal users (employees) or external users (customers, partners or employees working from home), are quickly blurring.

Manage and Monitor External As Well As Internal Traffic

WAN traffic is no longer predominantly internal – a surprising finding considering that this is what company wide area networks were meant for.  A recent study by Nemertes Research – Next Generation Networks 2020 – 2021 – reported that less than 40% of WAN traffic originates from an internal source going to an inside destination. The firm also notes that, perhaps not coincidentally, only about 40% of the average organization’s workloads still live in companies’ data centers.

Additionally, 17% of WAN traffic is now “outside-outside,” connecting a source outside of the enterprise to a destination also outside. And this was true before the abrupt spike in remote work as a result of the global pandemic.

Furthermore, the study found that over 50% of companies are using their SD-WANs to connect clouds to other clouds (another example of outside-to-outside traffic pattern) as well as their data centers to clouds.

These findings highlight the critical role SD-WAN solutions, and the related network visibility capabilities, will play in optimizing as well as monitoring the traffic patterns. There’s an even greater need for centralized policy control. Ensuring network availability and prioritizing throughput, based on monitoring both inside and outside traffic, are key considerations for companies adopting SD-WAN

  • 40% of WAN traffic is inside-to-inside 
  • 17% of WAN traffic is outside-to-outside
  • 50%+ of companies are using SD-WAN to connect clouds to other clouds

Source: Nemertes Research

SD-WAN Drivers: Addressing Cybersecurity Concerns

It is no surprise to anyone that cybersecurity is a top connectivity concern according to an IDG Market Pulse study(3). There are several aspects of an SD-WAN solution that can assist companies in further addressing cybersecurity threats. Dynamic network segregation, routing protocols and uniform network policies enforcement can direct highly-sensitive traffic and applications over the private underlays. The single-pane-of-glass network visibility of an SD-WAN enables monitoring of individual ports and devices. Furthermore, the solution can automatically alert to unusual traffic patterns or activities that could help distinguish between legitimate and malicious traffic and strengthen your security posture across the enterprise and out to your locations.

Our Customers’ Success Stories 

Digital business requires agility, high bandwidth, and high availability. Our SD-WAN customers are already achieving those goals and are delivering operational flexibility and cost advantages at the same time. The companies we selected to present operate in industries as diverse as healthcare, financial services, industrial safety products and services, higher education, multi-store retail and real estate agencies. And yet, there are common themes in their digital business needs and the benefits they derived from their Comcast Business SD-WAN solution. Here are some of their stories.

New Digital Banking Services, Cloud Migration and Streamlined IT Operations

A regional bank selected Comcast Business internet solutions and software-defined wide area networking as the connectivity foundation for new digital banking services to enhance customer experience, as well as to support a future migration to the cloud and enhance network speed and reliability for employees.

SD-WAN coupled with high bandwidth now provides reliable connectivity; all branch employees can now connect to the core processing platform that runs all the branches’ financial applications at once, eliminating previous frustrations around connectivity and making operations more efficient. 

One of the key features of the Comcast Business SD-WAN solution is the ability to leverage up to four independent underlying connections (underlays). Our customers can retain existing MPLS or other services from other communication providers, thus ensuring redundancy and coverage in areas outside of our network footprint. The bank initially deployed Comcast Business at 12 of its 19 locations, including Ethernet Dedicated Internet over fiber to five sites; Business Internet to nine sites; and Ethernet Network Service over fiber to the bank’s headquarters and four additional bank branches, tying the core together with the next-generation ActiveCore SD-WAN. 

After modernizing its network architecture, the bank is now planning future enhancements to its customer-facing applications, including one that has already launched through its core processor: live, real-time access to account services and balances via online banking — a service the bank was unable to implement under its previous legacy network. Other planned applications include video-tellers, addressing the new demand for remote interactions and growing customer expectations for digital banking services. 

After deploying Comcast Business SD-WAN, another financial services customer, a multi-location credit union, was able to ensure fast, uninterrupted access to in-house banking software, Microsoft Exchange servers, and various internal databases across its branches. New Windows applications updates are now rolled out to locations in a fraction of the time. The fast connectivity also allows the credit union to run vulnerability assessments at the branch level and quickly deploy security patches as needed - from antivirus updates to enterprise-wide application upgrades. Furthermore, the SD-WAN solution allows the bank to filter internet traffic through its headquarters, further enabling the monitoring of potential cybersecurity threats.  And we are proud to report that our work with this customer was recognized with the Enterprise Application of the Year award in the Finance category by the MEF (Metro Ethernet Forum) industry association.  

Supporting Two Sets of Customers: Real Estate Agents and Homebuyers 

A multi-site real estate brokerage, part of a large national network, was facing significant cost increases upon the renewal of its hardware and related licenses for its legacy network.  The cost advantages of a Comcast Business SD-WAN solution paired with the high-speed internet offerings were a no-brainer in comparison. But the main drivers for the decision to go with Comcast Business were the ability to quickly scale up new offices, enhance customer interactions and experience, enable new services, and automate the management of the network.  

At this realty firm, a small IT team is charged with supporting hundreds of real estate agents across several states and multiple offices. From capturing and transmitting bandwidth-heavy files such as property photos and video tours to the ability to remotely sign contracts and print transaction deposit checks at another office, to remote updates to electronic key access codes to offices and properties, the range of transactions, applications and network needs could be quite broad. The company needed a scalable, easy to manage network solution that wouldn’t require it to put servers or multiple pieces of equipment into each location. The Comcast Business SD-WAN solution deployed low-cost uCPE (universal customer premise equipment) and offered a highly scalable monthly pricing option.

The ease of network management is a huge time-saver for the IT team. The automation features and network status notifications allow the team to respond to issues in real-time and trouble-shoot remotely by a “point and click.” Application-aware networking with SD-WAN allows the company to prioritize traffic from key applications. The network set-up is so streamlined that the company managed to move several of its offices, including its largest, within a tight deadline and with no interruption in operations - an experience the team is looking to replicate as the company expands into new locations through acquisition.

The ability to support a mobile workforce with VOIP phone service - Comcast Business VoiceEdge - which allows the over 700 agents to seamlessly forward calls from their office numbers to their mobile phones was another factor in the decision to go with Comcast Business. The company’s CIO said that Comcast Business’ customer service and networking expertise sealed the deal. 

High-bandwidth Team Collaboration Apps for a More Efficient Workplace

One of our customers is a large independent industrial safety equipment and services supplier in the Western US. The company deployed Comcast Business SD-WAN to connect teams and control costs across a 10-state area. Following recent acquisitions, the company had expanded operations to 24 locations spread over three time zones and needed to remove geographical barriers to team collaboration by implementing a reliable network infrastructure. With an SD-WAN solution and our fiber network, the company can now reliably accommodate high-bandwidth communications tools, allowing employees to collaborate using video, VoIP and chat, no matter where they are located. 

The company’s Chief Information Officer said that they were able to leverage SD-WAN to provide better, more holistic service to customers, while also creating a company culture that allows everyone to be a part of the solution. Tasks like file storage, video conferencing and idea sharing can happen easily and internal communications have improved significantly with this rollout, making for a more efficient workplace.

In addition to enhanced employee collaboration, the new network solutions allow the company to meet its customers’ expanding technology needs and deliver advanced safety products, training and supply chain solutions.

With its new network in place, the company’s future technology upgrades include a web-enabled CRM package, migrating more applications to the cloud, and firming up the disaster recovery and cybersecurity plans.

Addressing the Complex Needs of Healthcare

The nation’s leading hospital systems and healthcare organizations have deployed our smart networks – fueled by the Comcast Business ActiveCore℠ SDN platform – to enable new applications, simplify compliance, and enhance patient experiences and outcomes.

Many innovative healthcare technologies – from electronic health records, to connected billing applications, tele-health sessions, in-home patient monitoring and pill-dispensing systems – are placing increased strain on healthcare providers’ networks. Because ActiveCore was designed with large networks in mind, Comcast Business can provide healthcare organizations with a seamless transition from legacy, low-bandwidth MPLS networks to high-bandwidth, multiple path SD-WAN – thereby improving the experience for both providers and patients.

The daily work of healthcare providers makes every patient interaction, and documentation of that interaction, mission-critical. Every note that doctors and nurses type into tablets while doing their rounds must be immediately stored and replicated to other systems on- and off-premise. SD-WAN provides application-specific routing with configurable, always-on packet replication guarantees, meaning there’s no chance of lost data, even during a “circuit switchover.”

Additionally, hospitals need to ensure patients and doctors alike can make use of reliable Wi-Fi connections to update loved ones via messaging, video calls, email or social media (including bandwidth-intensive images and video), but they also want the reassurance that internet bandwidth consumption isn’t going to slow down hospital workflows, communications around critical supplies, or the exchange of diagnostic imagery. With SD-WAN, hospitals can prioritize and direct traffic for the critical applications without sacrificing connectivity.

Furthermore, the ability to communicate across multiple sites to share equipment, supplies and critical clinical and operational information is more important now than ever before. No healthcare institution can afford any downtime. Our SD-WAN solution ensures redundancy by overlaying on top of multiple independent networks, ensuring carrier as well as network type redundancy. For example, Comcast Business ActiveCore was recently used by a New England-based, not-for-profit, integrated health care system serving over 800,000 people to build out its data center and connect its three sites. With the new network design, if one site goes offline, everything running on that network is automatically switched over to one of the other two sites, greatly reducing downtime. 

Comcast Business is proud to be actively working with healthcare organizations across a range of medical settings, including one of the nation’s leading providers of physician services, with more than 4,200 physicians at hundreds of facilities across the country; esteemed academic medical centers and one of the nation’s largest healthcare systems with more than 120 sites.

Scaling Online Operations in Higher Education

Educational institutions of all sizes may need to prepare for a new environment where distance learning or remotely-enabled learning may become more and more the norm.  The ability to manage multiple connections both on campus as well as outside campus and provide the same level of availability and support will become crucial in this new world. Students will need to connect with professors and staff through video calls, collaboration and education apps, and texting, rather than just traditional emails and phone calls.

A recent Comcast Business SD-WAN deployment at a university customer enabled that educational institution to quickly spin up new high bandwidth connectivity either between sites or through on-ramps to new cloud-based, distance-learning applications. As a result, secure, high-performance connections between sites can be delivered over either dedicated, highly secure private lines or public internet. Furthermore, SD-WAN’s application-aware networking allows educational institutions to cost-efficiently manage the new bandwidth demands.

Enhancing Availability and Payment Security in Retail

A large independently owned hardware store and home center headquartered in Boston selected our SD-WAN solution, powered by our next-generation ActiveCore SDN platform, to enhance network availability and customer payment security for its retail locations. High network availability is a critical component of any retail store that takes credit card payments, as it requires constant network uptime to process transactions. High availability was assured through redundancies with multiple transport underlays and active-active set-ups. The customer also took advantage of the auto-failover feature, whereby locations would automatically connect to the 4G LTE backup if there is ever an issue with the primary network – no need for an IT staff member to physically go to the site to connect it to the other network. In addition, one of the most attractive features of the Comcast SD-WAN to the retailer was our solution’s PCI compliance, which ensures customer payment data is kept secure and helps our customers certify their PCI compliance.  

Set the Stage for a Digitally Enabled Future 

Growing customer expectations, and the need to enable new digital business models and deploy scalable new applications are driving companies of all sizes to adopt software-defined networking technologies and more specifically SD-WAN. The old legacy networks can no longer support the new requirements.

Additionally, there’s the need for agility and flexibility to spin up new locations, instances, applications, and dynamically monitor and control network traffic. 

Comcast Business ActiveCore enables intelligent, centralized control for your network, via software applications. ActiveCore delivers a ground-breaking experience for virtualized network functions (VNF) like our Managed Router and SD-WAN. The solution enhances performance, reliability, and flexibility, so you can be responsive to customer demands and employee needs.  Paired with our Gigabit speeds on the nation’s largest converged IP network, it gives you the speed and agility that digital business requires while offering scalable, cost-effective pricing models.  

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