Today's businesses run on network bandwidth like cars run on gasoline. They try to get as much out of every bit they can, and a scarce supply can bring things to a disastrous halt. But where automobile engines are becoming vastly more fuel efficient, evolving enterprise needs are only creating explosions in bandwidth demand.
While it's not exactly grounded in scientific fact, Nielsen's Law of Internet Bandwidth highlights an issue enterprises need to constantly address. It states that users' bandwidth needs rise 50% every year, and this appears to be especially true for enterprise users.
After all, many enterprise networks today look very different from even just five years ago. The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), video and rich media are just a few examples of innovation straining networks beyond what they were designed to effectively handle. Additionally, enterprise applications now include a greater mix of software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider applications and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) hosted applications, as well as continued use of customer data centers.
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While obviously the natural solution for any bandwidth shortage has been to simply acquire more bandwidth, there are costs associated with that. A number of emerging technologies can make the networks more cost efficient. These include SDN, NFV and hybrid SD-WAN) coupled with mature technologies such as MPLS and Internet protocol security (IPSec).
With SDN control, bandwidth can be changed on demand. For businesses whose needs vary widely -- low bandwidth for normal use but high bandwidth for occasional video streaming applications -- the ability to adjust bandwidth on demand can lead to lower costs. This is especially useful with Ethernet connectivity where bandwidths can range from as little as 1 Mbit/s to as high as 100 Gbit/s.
With NFV, a single white box device with multiple VNFs can replace multiple appliances designed for specific functions such as routing, security and WAN acceleration. This can lower the capital cost as well as ongoing operational expenses. Multiple truck rolls during a hardware refresh cycle are replaced by a single truck roll. VNFs from different vendors can be deployed on the same device, providing customers with a best-of-breed selection on the same device.
SD-WAN uses SDN
and NFV to deliver newer WAN designs. No industry standards exist yet for SD-WAN and different vendors have proprietary implementations. However, SDN control via a web-based portal and the ability to dynamically select the best-performing network link at any site for optimal performance are common. SD-WAN has made hybrid WAN designs more compelling than ever before.
Many enterprises have long utilized a mix of MPLS VPNs with premium Ethernet connectivity and IPSec VPNs over cheaper broadband connectivity. Such hybrid designs include primary (MPLS) and back-up (IPSec broadband) designs at a site, MPLS-IPSec load-sharing configurations at a site, or a mix of MPLS sites with IPSec sites as part of a single VPN.
With SD-WAN technology, these designs can be further optimized for performance and, in some cases, lower the cost. For example, bandwidth increases at an MPLS site can be accomplished at a lower cost by adding a broadband Internet link with SD-WAN instead of additional MPLS bandwidth.
It's advantageous for businesses to optimize network choices according to individual site needs, and build configurations as part of a single VPN on a regional, national or even global scale. This approach can deliver a cost-effective VPN to meet a wide range of enterprise performance needs and budget.
Enterprises are starting to classify sites into categories. For example, an enterprise segmenting sites based on cost-performance needs could look like this:
- Broadband Internet connection and wireless back-up, secured using an IPSec device
- Dual broadband and SD-WAN for security and performance optimization
- MPLS Ethernet and broadband with SD-WAN
- Dual MPLS Ethernet
Besides cost-performance optimization, there are other benefits to this approach. If an enterprise already uses MPLS VPN, this gives them a way to incrementally deploy SD-WAN at locations as needed. It also eases lifecycle management because sites can switch from one configuration to another as needs evolve instead of requiring a rip and replace approach. For customers with more uniform configurations across a larger number of sites, such as retailers or restaurant chains, the same configurations can be replicated and subsequently changed if needed.
Working with service providers that can provide this site level flexibility can be very beneficial for enterprises.
The changing landscape in enterprise IT, including the growing fluidity of bandwidth demand and adoption of cloud-based applications, makes it increasingly important to have a WAN design that incorporates elements of SDN, NFV and SD-WAN based approaches to achieve the right balance of performance, reliability, security and cost.
— Manish Malhotra, Assistant Vice President, Product Management, AT&T Business Solutions