Forget the hype: here’s 3 ways you can actually save money with SD-WAN

Saving money with SD-WAN (part two)

“SD-WAN is an exciting, transformative technology that can do a lot of amazing things for your business – but it needs to be used correctly.”

In my last blog, I attempted to cut through some of the hype surrounding SD-WAN. I did this by looking at the too-often-believed myth that SD-WAN can save companies money by effectively replacing private networks with commodity internet and ‘magic’ boxes. I thought it was important to sound a cautious note in the midst of a lot of hyperbolic claims about SD-WAN’s magical properties.

However, perhaps I wasn’t being so controversial after all. It could be said that the public perception of SD-WAN has peaked the summit of hype and is even now descending towards the ‘Trough of disillusionment’ stage of Gartner’s Hype Cycle graph. Having been inflated to unrealistic proportions, expectations are now inevitably sinking in the face of what the technology can and can’t actually do. (Just look at this article from SDxCentral for an example of how the tide might be turning.)

gartnerhypecycle

Of course this isn’t SD-WAN’s fault! You might have had a disappointing, disillusioning experience with SD-WAN, and the chances are that’s because you’ve been misled. So let’s get this straight: SD-WAN is an exciting, transformative technology that can do a lot of amazing things for your business – but it needs to be used correctly.

At Exponential-e, we know how to make the most of SD-WAN. Hopefully, this blog series will show you how we have the knowledge to help you scale the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ towards a better understanding – and use – of SD-WAN technology!

In this, the middle part of a three part series, I’ll be talking a bit more about how SD-WAN can save businesses money as a supplement or component of more traditional private networking. I’ll be giving three examples of clever ways we can use SD-WAN to make a business network more economical and efficient.

These examples will be fairly general; in part three, I’ll talk about real-world use cases that correspond to each example. These will demonstrate how at Exponential-e we make clever use of SD-WAN in order to make life easier and more cost effective for our customers.

Each example showcases how SD-WAN primarily saves companies money in two interconnected and complementary ways.

  1. Infrastructure: Our approach to providing SD-WAN enabled services is to enhance the functions and features of your existing network. With SD-WAN, you can add applications and products to a network that you’d normally have to pay an arm and a leg for: e.g. WAN optimisation. You’ll also save money with SD-WAN by substituting costly hardware for software applications.
  2. Increased control: SD-WAN enables an IT manager to manage an entire network – steering traffic, monitoring application SLAs, viewing applications, setting security protocols, and so on – through a single portal. This saves you money by removing the need to hire engineers to configure your network; you don’t have to be particularly IT literate to use our SD-WAN portal – it’s consumable and anyone can use it (but there’s an advanced tab if you want even more control). But you’ll also save money by exercising this visibility and control to utilise your infrastructure more efficiently.

As you’ll see, both areas usually come into play when we’re integrating SD-WAN into a customer’s network, and both result in a cheaper, more efficient network.

Example 1: Hybrid WAN

Business problem: You want redundancy built into your network, but you don’t want to buy MPLS links.

Before SD-WAN: You’d have to back up MPLS with MPLS and Internet with Internet. There was no way to back-up your WAN over the Internet in a simple, controllable and scalable way.

Our SD-WAN solution: With SD-WAN you can run your business over one MPLS link and one Internet link, and share traffic between both links securely.

How you’re saving: Firstly, Internet is often cheaper than MPLS. And although it’s less secure, we are able to encrypt any WAN traffic that’s sent over the Internet as a standard part of our service. In any case, under normal circumstances you’ll still be running your business-critical apps over MPLS – you’ll just be using your Internet connection as a cost-effective back-up.

Encryption of your traffic would once have required the use of expensive hardware; the same is true of the control SD-WAN gives you over your network traffic. By intelligently steering and sharing out traffic according to service level priority, you can ensure you’re utilising both your MPLS and Internet links in an active-active configuration. (Historically, a backup link would just sit there), thus making your network more efficient, thus more cost-effective.

Example 2: Remote network security

Business problem: Your team is working remotely and you need to quickly set up security for your network traffic.

Before SD-WAN: You will need to physically install numerous expensive pieces of hardware, most commonly routers and firewalls.

Our SD-WAN solution: You won’t need to set up a physical firewall – instead we’ll set up a private encrypted tunnel from your SD-WAN CPE to an online cloud-scanning service provided by the likes of Zscaler or Palo Alto. These offer the same security capabilities as a local firewall without the need for hardware, and work wherever you are in the world.

Additionally, you’ll be able to leverage local breakout to send traffic that doesn’t require firewall scanning (SaaS-based applications, for example) straight to the Internet.

How you’re saving: Firstly, hardware is expensive, it takes up physical space that you might not have. Secondly, it eats up man-hours in terms of installation and configuration. Lastly, by sending safe traffic directly to the Internet, you’re again making your network more efficient and cost-effective.

Example 3: Agile network access

Business problem: You’re setting up a pop-up site and you need to get hooked up to your network, but you only have 4G access while you wait for broadband.

Before SD-WAN: You’d be forced to wait for the required access mechanism to arrive and be installed/configured.

Our SD-WAN solution: With SD-WAN, you can use any access mechanism, from Ethernet private-line MPLS, through broadband FTTC-based connections, right down to 4G data. What’s more, you can mix and match the access mechanisms: for example, you can set up a pop-up site using 4G, then switch the 4G to backup when the broadband is available. If you’re then delivered a fibre cable, you can plug that into SD-WAN and the broadband will become the backup.

How you’re saving: The flexibility of access points to SD-WAN potentially gives businesses enormous agility – they can rapidly deploy pop-up sites and offices as and when they need to, with no need to delay. That’s less chance of missing out on revenue.

Conclusion

As you can see from these three examples, SD-WAN – while not being quite the ‘magic box’ it’s been touted as in some corners – offers businesses a rich range of possibilities in terms of saving money on hardware and creating more efficient networking. There’s more to SD-WAN, of course, than cost savings – such as (to name a few): maximising performance, user experience, secure access control, analytics, and automation. It’s imperative that your entire network infrastructure is designed and built correctly to take advantage of these capabilities.

In the third and final part of this blog series, I’ll talk about three ‘real world’ cases in which we have made use of SD-WAN’s applications to implement cost-saving solutions for businesses with great success.

In the meantime, let us know what you think of our blog series so far in the comments section. Do you agree that SD-WAN has been badly served by hype? What do you think of the ways we use SD-WAN? Hav you got any other suggestions of your own? We’d love to know your thoughts!

Director of Infrastructure at Exponential-e With over 17 years of experience running service provider networks, Andrew is responsible for core network and DC infrastructure teams within Exponential-e managing the design and operations of services that run on various platforms. Andrew is an evangelist of new technologies and an advocate for continual improvement.

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