SD-WAN: It's the End of the Telecom World as We Know It (and We Feel More than Fine)

By Lori Hannan, Product Manager for the MSx Managed SD-WAN Service, TPx Communications

Many of us still think of “telecom” and “value-added services” as being at the heart of business communications. In reality, the cloud has taken over, sparking innovative approaches to connectivity and WAN architectures. One of these is SD-WAN (or software-defined wide area networking), which has now crossed the chasm from the early adopter “hype” phase into the mainstream – and telecom as we knew it is dying a slow death.

Looking back to the days when telecom ruled (as recently as 2015!), a fairly bleak picture emerges: The telecom vision was delivered using proprietary connections from a single carrier, whichinvolved long-term contracts and very little flexibility; value-added services (such as call-center queuing, voicemail, phone trees or emailed faxes) also were wedded to hardware, with proprietary functions enabled via routers and switches either in the carrier networks or within appliances at the customer’s location. Being proprietary, interoperability was a rare bird indeed, and agility was nearly impossible; service changes could take days or even weeks to make.

Today’s business world stands in stark contrast: Wenow expect our communications to be multichannel, always-on, interoperableand available anywhere. And, werequirecloud-delivered applications to be available on-demand for mission-critical needs. This includes services formerly thought of as “telecom,” such as voice calls (now VoIP applications), messaging andemail, unified communications, and call center functions. Also, in the mix are productivity apps, resource planning and more—all of which now integrate with those core communications services. (More precisely, it’s the other way around–communications functions are now initiated within foundational business applications, creating seamless processes.)

That said, and it should be obvious: Implementing the cloud vision reliably requires more than just picking from a cornucopia of cloud apps to fit your needs and calling it a day. Enterprises still need to create a wide-area network (WAN) built on reliable connections from location to location and to the outside world. However, those connections no longer need to be built on expensive point-to-pointcircuit architectures, thanks to managed SD-WAN.

SD-WAN does exactly what it says it does; it creates connections in software where there were once only hardware-based hub-and-spoke links from the main office to the branches. A significant “beyond telecom” dimension of SD-WAN is the lack of geographic boundaries; it offers direct access to cloud resources and apps from branch locations, for instance, and creates an overlay of intelligent, programmatic functionality that exists abstracted from any hardware footprint.

This abstraction leads to one of theprimary benefits of SD-WAN: It’s connectivityagnostic. Forget about being locked into a single provider or type of connection across all locations; each office can choose the right circuit for their needs (think fiber, copper, fixed wireless or 4G), as well as connection type (e.g., MPLS, basic broadband and so on). SD-WAN doesn’t play favorites; it will run consistently across all of them.

Managed SD-WANs also support the post-telecom, cloud-enabled world when it comes to an unplanned outage. Because it’s software-defined, traffic can be seamlessly re-routed to a failover connection, including 4G LTE. 

"With managed options proliferating, enterprises have a clear opportunity to seamlessly move on, into a post-telecom world"

Quality of Service

Asyour business makes the shift to cloud applications, you require redundancy and reliability in theconnections that allow you to access those apps. SD-WANsupplies intelligent networking and performance-basedrouting as part of its core functionality – and as such, provides real-time control and visibility over network and application performance.

This can be used to govern how applications are routed across the network, to achieve the best possibleQuality of Experience (QoE). Each application can be given a different prioritization level as well, so that real-time communications like voice and video take precedence over something like email, if the connection is congested. Application prioritization can be applied to the full swath of apps in a business environment, including customerrelationship management (CRM) tools, security and firewalls, enterprise resource planning and other services.

It’s worth noting that this app-aware performance management function can help mitigate the reliability challenges inherent in using some types of connectivity for critical business applications. Some managed SD-WAN providers like TPx can provide Quality of Service (QoS) over any type of underlying connection – even for so-called “best efforts” internet. And, additional features like Forward Error Correction (FEC) also canimprove circuit performance, reducing jitter and packet loss.

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