IT Focus Area: Connectivity
February 22, 2016
5 Keys to Fast, Reliable and Secure Enterprise Connectivity
Enterprise wide area network (WAN) traffic is growing at a rapid rate. According to Cisco, business Internet protocol (IP) traffic will see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20 percent through 2019.
Traffic patterns continue to shift away from corporate data center systems of record, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. They’re moving towards cloud and hosted as-a-service systems of engagement such as video, email, collaboration, and real-time customer interactive systems. These new systems are overrunning the enterprise WAN because they are fast to deploy, offer high customer engagement, and are often solutions that traditional corporate information technology (IT) cannot compete against. As our WANs now carry real-time voice, video, and Internet delivered as-a-service offerings, the need for resiliency and quality of service continues to grow in importance.
Understanding the needs of these services is key to meeting your service-level agreements (SLAs) and giving employees round-the-clock access to your critical systems.
Enterprises face other complications when managing their connectivity as they embrace as-a-service offerings. While moving services to the cloud can make you more agile and cut your capital costs, your network must adapt to service these new delivery methods. This new network architecture needs to support reliable, low-latency connections to multiple cloud providers―as well as branch-to-branch and branch-to-data center connectivity.
To add to this complexity, when you move applications or workloads off premises, you need a connectivity solution that supports user expectations of low latency and high bandwidth. Your network must enable your IT organization to meet the business’ needs in real time.
If your connectivity is down, your business is down.
Your solution must also meet your security and compliance requirements. With devices and applications spread across multiple networks and connection mediums, cyber criminals have more opportunities to access your data.
Optimize Connectivity Despite the Barriers
Complex connectivity needs can either be managed by an army of engineers or with policy and orchestration through software controls. The corporate WAN has grown beyond simple, dedicated point-to-point connections into complex multi-protocol label switching (MPLS), virtual private LAN services (VPLS), private fiber, and Internet-based architectures. We need to embrace the next evolution of WAN connectivity via software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions. SD-WAN is the solution that most economically meets the demand for optimized connectivity and enables your network to keep up with your business.
Embracing SD-WAN allows you to cut costs, maintain reliability, improve time to market, and enable new flexibility in traffic handling, so you can free up more of your IT budget for innovation.
Here are five things you can do to optimize connectivity on your route to SD-WAN:
1. Review your telecommunications spend
Confusing telecommunications contracts cause many organizations to overspend. A simple Telecom expense management (TEM) review can pay for itself in 12 months or less. TEM engagements can give you insights into your WAN topology and where your budget is being spent. These services are great for identifying immediate cost savings and are useful to include in financial modeling related to SD-WAN adoption. Any company that has recently gone through a merger or acquisition should consider a TEM engagement.
2. Analyze your circuit costs to identify areas where you can be more efficient
For most enterprises, this is low-hanging fruit and doesn’t require an all-out TEM engagement.
Any DS-x/OC-x circuit is ripe for cost saving by switching it to an Ethernet-based service. However, avoid only engaging your long-term MPLS or WAN provider for these quotes. The telecommunications landscape has changed dramatically in the last several years. Most regions have had explosions in fiber deployments. Ask a circuit aggregator for fiber maps around your buildings to help determine who could provide transport. You will likely be surprised at the carrier choices and cost saving from using competitive options.
3. Develop and implement a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) strategy
The WAN has largely been a manually configured network. Branch routers are usually configured with standard policies and shipped out to faithfully service the sites’ connectivity needs until the next hardware refresh. In a time where our data existed at the corporate data center, voice was largely time-division multiplexing (TDM), the use of Internet at work was discouraged, and branch bandwidth demands were small.
We now operate at a time where organizations dynamically move apps between cloud providers, subscribe to multiple as-a-service offerings, and carry branch-to-branch IP-voice traffic over the WAN. To efficiently manage all of this change, we need a new WAN strategy. SD-WAN allows us to integrate policy, control, orchestration, and security into WAN networks to better deliver applications and ensure a positive end-user experience. The additional savings of embracing the Internet as a WAN component can save your organization upwards of 40 percent on WAN circuit costs.
Combining multiple carriers and using the performance-based routing available in SD-WAN products will reduce your costs and ensure reliability for both your real-time and less sensitive traffic that is carried over the Internet. By adding application identification, you can mark high-priority, business critical traffic and route it minute-by-minute across the best delivery path while sending other traffic, such as Facebook or file services, over lower performing links.
You can also implement WAN optimization and compression technologies (e.g. line fill and deduplication). This can dramatically shrink the data traversing your WAN and improve the utilization of those links.
4. Categorize and rationalize your applications
Preparing for better application traffic controls requires a company to identify and categorize their applications. This is also a good time to consider a rationalization exercise. Companies often find that they have multiple applications serving a single purpose. By rationalizing and consolidating applications, IT can retire redundant and seldom-used applications. IT can also develop a strategy to classify application traffic across its infrastructure to maintain security, user experience, and business continuity through connectivity changes. Organizations that have effectively administered this process have freed up significant resources in systems management, support costs, and security exposure.
The building blocks of an application-focused IT strategy can be illustrated through an application optimization framework:
5. Encrypt your WAN communications
Regardless of the path your data takes (metro-ethernet, MPLS, or Internet VPN), ensure that you use strong ciphers and efficient end-to-end encryption mechanisms. Data must be protected throughout its life cycle. There is a wide variety of deployment options for encryption plans. It is crucial to analyze your organization’s needs to create the best strategy for your data.
Questions You Should Ask About Your Enterprise Connectivity
Understanding your business needs before undergoing major changes is crucial to finding the right implementation plan and cutting costs in the long run. Asking these questions can help you understand your connectivity needs before making modifications:
Do you know how your connectivity needs are changing?
Are you moving workloads to cloud-based services, like Amazon, Azure, Office 365, etc.?
Are you planning to outsource backups?
Are you migrating to cloud-based file services?
Are you happy with your carriers or are you stuck in a contract that isn’t serving you?
Do you understand what your contract covers?
Are items being added to your bill?
Are you being billed based on your contract?
What competitive carriers are available within your office, colocation data center, and/or cloud provider?
If the WAN is becoming too complicated, have you considered managed WAN offerings?
Are you considering WAN optimization?
What problem are you solving (e.g. latency, packet loss, caching)?
What solution do you need?
How will you implement this equipment?
Do you know the important applications on your network and are you properly dealing with them on your WAN?
How secure is your network, and are there any security measures that you would like to put in place?
Do Your Homework Upfront
It takes a lot of time to plan your WAN, get quotes for connectivity, research your options, and choose equipment. It’s worth spending time up front to understand your needs, so you can chose a solution that will carry you into the future.
Once you understand your needs at a basic level, you can also work with a partner to get to the next step. Find a partner who has the right expertise to help you design, implement, and run your WAN. A good partnership can help you understand your costs, select vendors, purchase technologies, negotiate contracts, and manage and secure your network.