SD-WAN: Optimizing the WAN for Application Policy to Support Digital Transformation and Cloud

Last in a 3-part series from IDC, sponsored by Windstream, on the impact of SD-WAN

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Digitally transforming a business improves efficiencies, creates new revenue streams, and drives a better customer experience and increased user engagement. Cloud computing is a key pillar of the drive toward digital transformation. As applications move to the cloud, the wide area network needs to evolve to address application-specific requirements such as performance, security, reliability, and availability and prioritize them for mission-critical applications irrespective of their location — the datacenter or in the cloud. Satisfying these policies for all applications is necessary not only to enable operational efficiency (rationalize WAN transport costs) but also to drive the desired customer or user experience that is so central to an enterprise's digital transformation goals.

As traffic across the WAN continues to grow unabated, more business processes are digitally transformed, and as applications supporting these processes are increasingly delivered from the cloud, the need for optimized utilization of available network bandwidth assumes even greater importance. The ability to control and manage application traffic at a granular level to ensure applications critical to the enterprise's mission, regardless of location, receive the requisite priority in the use of available bandwidth over less essential applications is a nonnegotiable requirement for WAN infrastructure. In other words, the capability to set, manage, and monitor application-specific policies and to implement them in an automated fashion across a WAN is critical for the enterprise.

"The ability to control and manage application traffic at a granular level to ensure applications critical to the enterprise's mission, regardless of location, receive the requisite priority in the use of available bandwidth over less essential applications is a nonnegotiable requirement for WAN infrastructure."

SD-WAN provides the ability to centrally define policies and priorities across all applications in the enterprise as they relate to network characteristics such as performance, QoS, availability, reliability, and security, and to easily deploy them remotely across the enterprise network. Application policy management refers to the ability to define at an enterprise level, the relative importance of applications to the enterprise and assign appropriate network resources to each application flow to deliver the desired application outcomes in terms of the desired network characteristics on an ongoing basis. Mission-critical application flows can then be prioritized over less important applications. Appropriate security can be dynamically applied to specific application flows. This prioritization can also be achieved for specific users and locations across dates and time and in real time in response to changing network conditions.

SD-WAN is designed to enable enterprise-wide application policy management. A cloud-native application sees a performance improvement for the user in the branch because traffic does not need to be hair-pinned back to the datacenter before it goes to the cloud. This app can now directly access the cloud from the branch because SD-WAN creates the required IPsec tunnel through the overlay network to secure its traffic and send it over the physical broadband link at the branch. Similarly, a voice application hosted in the corporate datacenter can be delivered over MPLS to maximize the quality and reliability of the connection.

This dynamic application policy management — so critical for an enterprise's digital transformation goals — is what SD-WAN enables an enterprise to accomplish and helps drive sustainable competitive advantage.

Further insight into how SD-WAN can optimize application specific policy management can be found in our recent whitepaper, sponsored by Windstream, which explores how distributed enterprises that seek to drive competitive advantage through digital transformation can benefit from this technology. The paper also examines Windstream's approach to SD-WAN which uses technology from VeloCloud and combines it with Windstream's extensive portfolio of customized professional services and long-established network capabilities. This is the last in a three part series on SD-WAN; be sure to read our prior posts for additional insights.