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WAN To SD-WAN: The Inevitable Transformation For The Middle-East Region
February 23, 2020
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Digital transformation has changed the way businesses used to interact, operate, and communicate. The way the business world is becoming increasingly digital, it has become critical for organizations to be connected, operate, and be online 24x7. We all know when it all started, organizations in the Middle-East used to rely heavily on WAN (Wide Area Network) to connect to the branch offices, data centers, or corporate networks. As  WAN required specialized proprietary hardware, expensive networking, and security devices, it had its limitations. A better alternative is needed that can connect over the internet or cloud-native private networks. SD-WAN is the specific application that can connect branch offices and data centers over vast geographic distances.

What Is SD-WAN?
SD-WAN denotes the Software-Defined Wide Area Network. It is a virtual WAN architecture that enables business enterprises to use a combination of transportation services, including LTE, broadband, MPLS, and 4G to connect users to applications.

An SD-WAN uses a centralized control function for directing traffic across the WAN intelligently and securely. As a result, it has  the following advantages and benefits over WAN:

• With its intelligent routing capabilities,WAN Optimization, etc., it increases the application performance, thereby providing the user with an enhanced experience.
• Organizations do not need to employ specialized network engineers since SD-WAN leverages automation and centralized control, and hence it reduces your IT costs.
It ends up increasing your business productivity by reducing cost, providing continuous availability.

Let us see how SD-WAN is better than conventional WAN. Generally, WANs run on conventional routers that are not compatible with the cloud. Therefore, it requires hauling the traffic from the branch offices to a centralized hub. Here, the data traffic undergoes specialized security inspection before proceeding further. It not only causes undue delay but also results in poor user experience.

On the other hand, SD-WAN is convenient to use because the model can support applications hosted on public and private clouds and SaaS solutions like Office 365 and Dropbox. While delivering a high-quality performance, it ensures a user-friendly experience.

How Does SD-WAN Work?
As the name suggests, SD-WAN uses specific software and centralized control to steer traffic through the WAN intelligently. One can refer to it as intelligent because it handles the traffic based on priority, quality of services, and security requirements depending on business requirements. The router-centric model routes the traffic based on TCP/IP addresses and ACLs.

SD-WANs work by establishing encrypted tunnels between sites. Every site comes equipped with an SD-WAN device. On connecting to the local networks, these devices build tunnels with one another by automatically downloading custom-defined configuration and traffic policies. Depending on the architecture, they also connect over a Point of Presence (PoP).

SD-WAN Architecture Explained
There are three types of SD-WAN architecture.

• Premise-Based SD-WANYou can compare it to a plug-n-play router that performs real-time traffic shaping at each site. This SD-WAN box does not connect to the cloud gateway, but it connects to your business’ other sites. It is an ideal architecture for business enterprises that do not use cloud applications. Organizations hosting all their applications in-house benefit from this SD-WAN architecture.

The benefits of an SD-WAN architecture are that it saves costs, improves disaster recovery, shapes real-time traffic, and balances ISP/multi-circuit loads.

• Cloud-Enabled SD-WANIn this architecture, the software solution offers an on-site SD-WAN box to connect to a cloud gateway. The advantage is that your business gets the benefits of a premise-based SD-WAN along with the enhanced performance levels and reliability of cloud applications. 

The cloud gateway directly connects to cloud providers like Salesforce, Office 365, and AWS. It improves the performance of your cloud apps. If your internet connection fails during a session, the cloud gateway can keep it active. If your enterprise has an alternative circuit, the SD-WAN can route the cloud app through it, thereby preventing interruptions.

• Cloud-enabled SD-WAN plus Backbone – This SD-WAN architecture takes it to an entirely different level altogether. It works by offering an on-site SD-WAN box to connect your site to the nearest network PoP. The traffic hops on the SD-WAN provider's private fiber-optic network backbone.

As the WAN traffic traverses the private backbone, it maintains low latency, jitter, and packet loss. It improves the performance of all the network traffic such as video, voice, and virtual desktop. By connecting to cloud application providers like AWS and Office 365, it improves the performance and reliability of these applications.

What Are The SD-WAN Benefits For The Enterprises?
Apart from what we already discussed in the beginning, here are some more detailed SD-WAN benefits to business enterprises.

• SD-WAN is a virtualized WAN architecture. Hence, it allows business enterprises to use various transport mechanisms such as MPLS, LTE, and broadband internet connections to connect users to applications.
SD-WAN introduces centralized management and orchestration, thereby reducing the burden associated with managing and provisioning a WAN. Therefore, it allows network managers to define policies for leveraging the full power of the connectivity services. Recently, Majid Al Futtaim, the franchisee of the Carrefour supermarkets around the Middle-East, Africa, and Asia regions, has switched its conventional WAN to SD-WAN, encompassing all its 250 outlets for a seamless shopper experience involving its millions of customers.
• SD-WAN can balance the load traffic through multiple pipes. Therefore, it can route the traffic over another link if there is a connectivity failure in one link.

Drivers For SD-WAN
One of the primary drivers for SD-WAN is cost reduction. However, the decrease in the cost is not the only benefit of SD-WAN. Other drivers take priority.

Today Business enterprises in the Middle-East are adopting SD-WAN for improving their network security, cloud-enabling their business, and closing skill gaps in the IT organization. Besides, enterprises need agile networks and enhanced visibility into their networks and applications. SD-WAN solutions can help businesses in these matters.

Why Is SD-WAN So Crucial For The Businesses In The Middle East Region?
Surveys in the Middle East countries have shown that nearly 78% of the business organizations will adopt SD-WAN solutions as a critical part of their network initiatives within the next five years. More than 50% of the businesses today have already started exploring technology. Etisalat, the largest telecommunication provider in the UAE, had recently announced its adoption of SD-WAN as a critical element in its cloud transformation program.

The survey also shows that the top three challenges that business enterprises face in the Middle East are user, network, and application vulnerabilities. Besides, the complex IT infrastructure is getting expensive. The ideal solutions to address these challenges are to improve application and network visibility and security while reducing the complexity of network configuration along with an enhanced level of utilization of resources. SD-WAN solutions can help in this regard. Therefore, SD-WAN is gaining in importance in the Middle East region.

Connectivity is a critical issue in today’s business scenario. In rapidly growing and expanding economies, i.e., the countries in the Middle-East region, the businesses that remain connected will have a higher degree of visibility. The traditional WAN provides enough security but restricts connectivity a great deal. Thus, SD-WAN applications are the need of the hour because they offer the ideal solutions to the problems discussed above. Besides, one of the best SD-WAN benefits is the ‘cost’ factor. SD-WAN solutions can revolutionize businesses to perform in this age of online competition provided you have chosen the correct SD-WAN service provider who can customize and cater to your unique business requirements. 

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Blog written by: Amit Sharma - Manager - Service Delivery