Blog · 06 Mar 2019

The real way to future-proof your network

Discover where SD-WAN fits into the picture when it comes to building an agile network for the future.

David Llewelyn-Jones
Director of Portfolio and Product Development, BT

Everywhere you look, SD-WAN is being promoted as the answer to all your network problems.

Cut through the hype, and it certainly offers innovative and effective ways to address your digital, user experience and architectural challenges - but it’s just a stepping stone to the future, not the destination. If you think that SD-WAN is a major change for your organisation, wait to see what’s coming next…

SD-WAN  delivers on a transformed underlay

SD-WAN is a perfect example of how fast networks are evolving. The SD-WAN solution of today is already very different from the SD-WAN solution of a few months ago. Yes, it still does the basics such as application routing, but it’s possible it’s no longer delivered on a dedicated edge box, but instead via a virtualised service. Or, if it is delivered as an edge box, it’s a box to which you can also add virtualised services such as firewalls.

One of the major changes taking place is in the underlay, with the massive expansion in the use of the internet and the focus on cloud-based services. This has transformed set up times, traffic topology, commercials and security requirements. MPLS still plays a huge role, delivering the performance, security and service where you need it, but SD-WAN is the cherry on the top, offering a simpler way to accomplish visibility and automation for your applications on that transformed, more complex underlay.

Look to virtualisation, orchestration, service chaining and APIs

What can we see on the horizon for networks? The real exciting developments of the future are around virtualisation, orchestration, service chaining and APIs. These, coupled with new commercial models, are going to take networks truly into the digital age. They’ll bring down the borders between networks, the edge, cloud and LAN, as well as merging activity between your own service and infrastructure teams. They’ll enable services to be deployed quickly where they’re needed and just as quickly taken away. They’ll make it possible to create complex infrastructures that work together without the constant need for expert intervention. And they’ll be delivered with so much information that you’ll be able to adopt machine learning and AI to further automate the management of your infrastructure, taking that data to help you create new services for your organisation. For example, in a retail store, an SD-WAN device with a wi-fi service can not only provide an additional service to customers, but it can also help you understand what customers are searching on, using the data to better understand and support them in the future.

Embrace a truly agile network

As you move to a network based on virtualised, orchestrated services  change in the network world becomes ever faster, and will be focused on the need to constantly adopt a stream of software updates from each and every vendor. You need a platform, infrastructure and skills to make it possible. You’ll need to focus on how you patch and manage your software, as getting this wrong can bring down key applications or even major parts of your infrastructure. A network platform provides the tools to do this management, offering automated testing and change, enabling the upgrading of the network, validating the updates work in real time and automatically rolling back in seconds where required.

The network is also now becoming programmable, allowing software developers to deploy IT applications across the network in a fully-automated way, enabling constant iteration. A network platform again is crucial as it allows you to make these changes without breaking the infrastructure - it opens up the code which can be safely changed, without opening up the core code which could bring the system down.

To be a truly agile network you need a platform built on an open source approach, using data and API gateways to share information in a usable way. Orchestration and service chaining are key, bringing together analytics and services from the LAN, data centre, WAN and the cloud.

Start future-proofing your network

Chances are, you’ll end up using the solutions you select today in ways you can’t imagine, and this makes it essential to look beyond the immediate. Rather than looking at SD-WAN as a one-off change that will future-proof your network, you need to consider it as just one iteration of your solution. And, as your network evolves, you need to be on your guard against creating new vulnerabilities or triggering a negative impact on your wider IT and cloud initiatives.

For the future you need a network which can scale and change to the demands of your business. The data your network will offer will outstrip the amount a human can consume, process and analyse. The network platform is again crucial as it will enable you to gather and analyse that data, uncover issues and identify the best enhancements to make, moving to a position where you’ve got a self-healing network that is centrally and automatically managed.

As you extend your control and orchestration from the network into the data centre - and into the LAN, your network elements will truly work together. As a result, it’ll be easy to gather the data and run the analytics needed to understand what’s going on across your entire infrastructure. You will more easily spot security flaws or other problems as well as discover where to make iterative improvements.

To make this vision a reality it’s essential that you work with a partner who can offer a platform that can enable this future and work with them to identify your roadmap and timing of your evolution.

Find out how to future-proof your global infrastructure.