Visibility, insight, control: how SD-WAN is changing the game for IT teams

For most organisations, the last two years have been – how should we put this? – interesting. For a while there, the normal rules went completely out the window. Teams were scattered. Premises stood empty. Sales fluctuated wildly. Planning ahead with any certainty became near-impossible.

It’s been embattled IT teams that have borne the brunt of these business-upending times. Working long, stressful hours, they’ve had to improvise entirely new ways of keeping hundreds or even thousands of employees connected and productive. They’ve had to rethink the customer experience, often quite radically. And they’ve had to do all this while firefighting issues relating to remote working, such as security risks, incompatible devices and unreliable connectivity.

It’s little wonder that in 2021, 77% of tech leaders reported feeling heightened stress as a result of shepherding their businesses through the pandemic.  

Thankfully, this era of IT being constantly on the backfoot seems – finally – to be drawing to a close. The World Health Organisation states that, in all likelihood, the pandemic is now becoming relatively manageable across Europe. Against this backdrop, IT teams can now fully get to grips with the new normal of UK working life. And, of course, they’ll be rethinking their networks to accommodate the permanent shift towards remote working: The Financial Times reports that as many as one in 10 UK offices will become surplus to requirements over the next five years.

What is SD-WAN?

Up until recently, most WANs were defined and controlled by hardware – metal-cased MPLS routers, usually. Making major changes to these networks required site visits from engineers. These jobs were complicated, time-consuming and costly.

SD-WANs, however, are not defined and controlled by hardware, but by software – hence, software-defined WAN.

An SD-WAN is ‘overlaid’ across a combination of connectivity technologies such as MPLS, broadband, 4G or 5G. This creates a network: public, private, or a hybrid of both, depending on business requirements. The SD-WAN can adjust bandwidth levels across all its connection points to keep large amounts of traffic flowing smoothly. These adjustments can be automated by AI; controlled by an IT team; or overseen by a third party.

SD-WAN: malleable resilience

The business benefits of SD-WAN are multifold. SD-WAN offers IT teams full visibility of their network through a single ‘pane of glass’ viewpoint. The flow of traffic around the business – and the volume of that traffic – becomes far easier to observe than was ever possible with a network managed by hardware. 

With this newfound visibility comes a more empowering sense of control. Admins – or AIs – can deploy policies, blocklists and whitelists to optimise the flow of traffic across the network and between geographical locations. The level of control on offer is granular, but IT teams aren’t at risk of tumbling down rabbit holes of confounding complexity. SD-WAN was purpose-designed to be much less convoluted and much more user-friendly than hardware-managed WAN.

And by reducing operational complexity and freeing up time and resources, costs are reduced and efficiency is increased. 

The flexibility of SD-WAN leads to more business efficiency – and lowers stress – by ensuring that applications are always running smoothly, and data is always stored safely. The bandwidth available to your business remains unchanging, but the way that this bandwidth is shared out across differing demands and teams is now instantly adjustable.

If you know, for example, that a particular department will be uploading an unusually large number of files overnight, they can be temporarily granted additional capacity to do so. Come the morning, this extra bandwidth can then be shifted back to other traffic demands. 

SD-WAN’s flexibility makes it far easier to scale up or down than a router-defined network. The reach of an SD-WAN can be expanded extremely rapidly, keeping pace with even the most hungrily ambitious business. Planning on opening 50 new locations over the next five years? Go for it – an SD-WAN can immediately extend out to any location that can connect to the web.

SD-WAN is also reassuringly resilient to attack. By securing SD-WAN with SASE – secure-access service edge, the cutting edge of cloud-delivered network protection – businesses have a powerful defence against any and every potential threat.

When weighing up the pros and cons of SD-WAN, you may find that your business is reluctant to abandon ‘traditional’ hardware-driven WAN altogether. There is a middle ground: Hybrid SD-WAN. This combines the unshakable security of MPLS routers – which have no way of being accessed via the public cloud – with the near-limitless expandability and flexibility of DIA (direct internet access). Sensitive traffic – customers’ financial details, for example – stays with your private cloud, while everyday traffic flows across the public cloud.

For the particularly security-conscious, hybrid SD-WAN offers the best of both worlds.

SD-WAN from TalkTalk Business

Every organisation has different connectivity requirements – no two networks are ever quite the same. That’s why, at TalkTalk Business, we never offer cookie-cutter SD-WAN  solutions. Instead, we design a tailored network architecture for every business we partner with. Each network is carefully optimised to meet the future needs and ambitions of each business.  

You’ll also find that, when it comes to managed SD-WAN providers, TalkTalk Business is as flexible as it gets. Once your SD-WAN is up and running, we can manage the network in full, 24/7; hand it across to your IT team to manage; or provide something in between, with rolling support, as and when you need it. 

Our job is to make the migration to SD-WAN – as seamless and as successful as possible. You’ll never look back.

Get in touch with TalkTalk Business about how we can help your business, or ring us for a chat today on 03301 625 738.