If you’re going to invest in all the incredible new technologies and apps that can allow your company to innovate and collaborate like never before, you need to make sure they actually work. This means investing in reliable bandwidth. Bandwidth has never been more important than it is today. If you’re still viewing bandwidth as a commodity, think again. It’s a vital fuel for your business operations.
Look at it this way: With your critical communications and collaboration moving to the cloud, you can’t afford to have your network go down. Sure, you should have service level agreements (SLAs) from your bandwidth providers, but they aren’t bulletproof. And they don’t replace business-interruption insurance to cover the full cost of an outage – lost revenue, lost customers, lost reputation. Every moment you’re down – and your competitors are up – leaves you at a competitive disadvantage.
Enter SD-WAN, or software-defined wide-area networking. You’ve likely heard of it because of its economic benefits. It caught fire as a cost-savings measure, delivering quality of service (QoS) over low-cost Internet connections. It can dramatically lower costs and carve out room in IT budgets for high-value spends in areas like security and collaboration.
In my nearly 30 year of experience running carriers as well as services distributors, I’ve never seen demand for a technology ramp up as quickly as SD-WAN. But SD-WAN is more than a one-trick pony and its uptake is not driven solely by economics. Its power as a redundancy play has emerged as a key component in the reliable delivery of what research firm IDC calls 3rd-platform technologies—cloud, big data, analytics, social and so on. In other words, SD-WAN helps power, optimize and ensure uptime in all the platforms that facilitate collaboration.
Uptime Becoming a Measure of IT Effectiveness
Technology choices are no longer the exclusive domain of the IT department. These days, executives from sales, marketing, customer service, accounting and even human resources are taking active roles in buying decisions for cloud-based solutions. They’re not only influencing purchasing, they’re buying technology with their own departmental budgets. “Shadow IT spending” outside of the IT department has never been higher than it is today, comprising upwards of 50% of overall IT spending.
All this unplanned adoption creates headaches for IT departments when it comes to compliance, application redundancy (duplicate subscriptions) and security, as well as systems and technology compatibility. It also adds to the increasing pressure on IT departments to deliver effective, reliable infrastructure. With the cloud-based solutions underpinning business activity across the spectrum, network downtime no longer means that customer service calls are going unanswered for a few minutes or an hour; it means the entire company grinds to a halt.
This is where it’s getting tricky for IT teams. Just as top IT personnel – CIOs, CTOs, CXOs, VPs and IT Directors — have taken the heat for costly security breaches, they’re now under pressure to maintain network uptime. They’re facing severe consequences, including lost jobs, for network outages when proper planning could have eliminated the risk.
What’s my point? IT leaders need to not only vet collaboration tools and software, and rapidly assimilate purchases made outside of their direct purview, but also drive education among top executives about the importance of redundancy and business continuity. This includes headline-grabbing areas like planning for security breaches and disaster recovery; less visible, but equally important, areas like buying business-interruption insurance; and active measures to keep networks and apps up-and-running. Increasingly, this last point means deploying SD-WAN. The good news is that SD-WAN can slash bandwidth costs and create room in budgets to help offset the costs of the other safeguards you’re developing to ensure business continuity.
Provider-Neutral SD-WAN vs Provider SD-WAN
As a rule of thumb, SD-WAN comes in two flavors. Some companies specialize in neutral SD-WAN deployment and management a standalone component, bringing in dual bandwidth providers. There are also communications network providers that offer a single solution via in-house SD-WAN. The question IT teams face is whether it’s better to have one company managing everything for you (controlling all your data and your SD-WAN configuration) or whether it’s better to go with a company that specializes in just the SD-WAN component, allowing you (or your consultants or systems integrators) to create your own, multi-provider solution.
The benefits of a single-provider solution center on simplicity. Most of these solutions rely only on the network of a single provider, sparing your already overtaxed IT teams the headaches of managing service agreements with multiple providers and then provisioning, coordinating and maintaining those connections for every one of your company’s locations. But single-provider solutions, no matter how robust, raise questions about true redundancy. For this reason, provider-neutral SD-WAN generally is considered the more robust pathway to business continuity.
The provider-neutral route also allows you to source the best-available providers for your primary and redundant connections based on which providers are available to serve each of your locations. Other factors unique to your locations can be incorporated as well. If you’ve got a location in a flood zone, for example, fixed wireless as a backup connection might be a strategically sound choice to hedge against copper shorts and fiber outages from mudslides.
The Bottom Line
While there is no “right or wrong” SD-WAN selection, you should take the time to plan it right. Consider outsourcing it to consultants or systems integrators that already know the ins-and-outs of SD-WAN to keep your in-house team on proprietary and strategic projects. All in, SD-WAN can support a robust and economical redundancy scheme for your company. Best of all, it will keep your company competitive – and your IT team out of hot water – in the process.