Unified Communications and rich video media, being quintessential components of businesses today – along with being the bare minimum that both employees and customers expect to see – require significantly more network capacity.

This is where the Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) comes into play, offering promising prospects for companies that are embracing cloud applications, shifting towards hybrid models, aiming for cost and complexity reduction, and have a large network of branches. At Gamma, as a specialist voice, data, mobility, and security managed service provider, we’d like to think we’re effectively leveraging the potential of SD-WAN, ensuring optimal connectivity and security for our clients.

At Gamma, we’d like to think we’re effectively leveraging the potential of SD-WAN, ensuring optimal connectivity and security for our clients.

The Utility of SD-WAN

There can be no denying that SD-WAN is a game-changer for enterprises seeking agility, enhanced network performance for critical applications, and cost efficiencies. Its ability to automate the creation of wide-area segments, integrate with WAN optimisation controllers, firewalls, and security devices, distribute traffic intelligently across multiple WAN connections, and render dedicated routers redundant undoubtedly underlines its effectiveness.

Digging into this a little deeper, we find the key potential of SD-WAN is in its features (get ready for some Star Trek style technobabble): an orchestration layer delivered as a service, policy-based load sharing across multiple links, simplified WAN configuration for zero-touch provisioning, and the capability to create VPNs and service chain additional services. With that being said, while SD-WAN does introduce Quality of Service (QoS), prioritisation, and acceleration, it does not render Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) redundant, as it lacks end-to-end control on the public internet. So what does that actually mean?

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SD-WAN is like the “traffic controller” for your business’s network traffic. It can prioritise certain types of traffic (like video conferencing) over others (like web browsing), making sure that the most important data gets through first.

Let’s break it down a bit

For those in the back afraid to raise their hands, here’s a quick explainer (those of you who are experts can move on to the next paragraph): SD-WAN and MPLS are both technologies used for data transfer across networks, such as those used by businesses. Now how do we explain the relationship? Well, we love a good old metaphor here at Gamma, so here we go.

SD-WAN is like the “traffic controller” for your business’s network traffic. It can prioritise certain types of traffic (like video conferencing) over others (like web browsing), making sure that the most important data gets through first. This is the Quality of Service (QoS) and prioritisation part. The acceleration part means it can also make the data transfer faster, in certain conditions.

Now, MPLS stands for Multi-Protocol Label Switching. This technology also manages data transfer across networks, but in a different way. It can establish specific paths for data to follow, and these paths are secure and reliable.

When we say that SD-WAN “does not render MPLS redundant,” it means that even though SD-WAN has some great features, it can’t completely replace MPLS. One major reason that was previously mentioned is that SD-WAN lacks “end-to-end control on the public internet”. This means that while SD-WAN can control the data transfer within a network it manages, it doesn’t have full control over the data once it gets onto the public internet, because the internet is managed by various different providers. On the other hand, MPLS can establish secure, reliable paths for data, which gives it more control over the data transfer from one end to the other.

The best way to think of it is this: If SD-WAN is like a traffic controller managing different types of vehicles on the road (the data), MPLS is like a dedicated lane on a highway. This dedicated lane is always open and gets you to your destination quickly and reliably, but it might be more expensive. And all the while, SD-WAN is there on the regular lanes, making sure the right vehicles (data) get to where they need to be as quickly as possible.

If SD-WAN is like a traffic controller managing different types of vehicles on the road (the data), MPLS is like a dedicated lane on a highway.

Smiling lady on a video call on a laptop

One size does not fit all, and this truth is just as true in the SD-WAN space as it is in any other.

Hybrid Networking and the Role of MPLS

So, now that we understand what everything actually means, let’s look at where things are going. We know that enterprises are steadily moving towards hybrid networking instead of relying solely on public or private networks. Indeed, a Gartner survey indicates that only 20% of enterprises that have deployed SD-WAN have entirely replaced MPLS. This is telling, and raises some considerations: the choice between MPLS or the internet should hinge not only on cost but also on the applications’ sensitivity to latency, packet loss, jitter, and their criticality to the enterprise. In other words, the quality and robustness. For instance, critical applications like voice and video might still necessitate the use of MPLS.

 

Lady looking at laptop while on phone

The long and short of it is that while the cost savings from SD-WAN come from connectivity, hardware, and management overheads, the actual cost savings may vary depending on the extent of SD-WAN deployment. The volume of management inputs might increase as enterprises deploy more applications and have a more dispersed data footprint, even though SD-WAN’s centralised, automated, and simple nature can reduce management costs. To condense this all down into something we will all instantly recognise: one size does not fit all, and this truth is just as true in the SD-WAN space as it is in any other.

 

 

 

20%

The percentage of enterprises that
have deployed SD-WAN have entirely
replaced MPLS.

Prioritising Security in SD-WAN Deployments

Certainly a hot topic more now than ever, security is of paramount importance, especially when transitioning from a data-centre-centric configuration to a cloud-centric one. We would be very surprised if a client looking to implement an SD-WAN solution didn’t raise this as a critical area. While SD-WAN solutions can have embedded or virtualised security, organisations need to ensure they partner with vendors with a robust, well-documented history in security. A mere 20% of vendors in the market meet this criterion, signifying the importance of careful selection and trust in partnerships.

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Gamma’s Approach to SD-WAN

So, given that we’ve raised other vendors, how does Gamma approach SD-WAN? Well, we offer partnerships with selected SD-WAN and security vendors, providing a plethora of SD-WAN and security solutions. We focus on understanding the latency and jitter sensitivity of enterprise applications when setting up KPIs and SLA red lines. Given the possible architectural changes that SD-WAN implementation might require, we fully acknowledge and take into account the potential effects on existing SLAs, response times, and overall service levels provided by the connectivity carrier.

We recognise the importance of understanding and defining with suitable SLAs the responsibility across the entire solution, from customer premises equipment to application layer considerations. Our emphasis on aligning partner values is a testament to our commitment to effective collaboration throughout the implementation process.

A Complete Managed Service for Cisco Meraki SD-WAN

Excitingly, we’ve integrated the Cisco Meraki SD-WAN solution into our technological portfolio. This state-of-the-art system brings to the table flexible technology management, fast deployment capabilities, and comprehensive API compatibility – all features that have greatly enhanced our operational agility.

With the system now integrated with the Highlight Service Assurance Platform, we benefit from a robust top-down service management approach. This strategic integration empowers us to promptly identify and rectify issues, bypassing any roadblocks created by legacy setups. This unified system offers the added benefit of sharing vital views and reports with their customer base through a single, Gamma-branded dashboard.

To shed light on this transformational integration, James Sirrett, the Network Support Manager at Gamma Direct, elaborates, “Highlight is the top-down service view of the Meraki network delivering transparency of Gamma’s Meraki SD-WAN service.”

Sirrett continues, detailing the impact of integrating the Highlight platform into our operations, “Onboarding a new environment and deploying Highlight allowed us to quickly get a holistic view of all VPN’s and performance metrics of the organisation.”

This change, he notes, “greatly extended our service assurance capability alongside the native Meraki tools. The platform allowed us to identify potential issues and provide very quick improvements to the customer.”

Further endorsing the transition, Martin Saunders, the Product Director of Highlight, shares his experience of working with the Highlight platform. He observes, “Working with the Highlight platform has already seen our customers’ confidence levels with Gamma’s Meraki SD-WAN service rise.”

Saunders, who holds daily responsibility for enterprise accounts, articulates the transformative effects of the Highlight platform on his role, “As an advocate, I am no longer blind to a huge area of their business.”

He concludes by drawing attention to the practical impact on service level agreements, “SLAs with issues have decreased significantly and, therefore, so have escalations that would have been both time-consuming to Gamma and our customers.” His comments highlight the tangible benefits the Highlight platform has brought to Gamma’s service assurance process.

So, what’s the final word?

Clearly, SD-WAN is a rapidly evolving technology that has significant implications for the future of connectivity. As it continues to evolve, it is imperative that partners should ideally have extensive experience in connectivity and security, as well as in Local Area Services. With our innovative approach to SD-WAN, Gamma is a promising player in the field, proving that with the right strategies and partnerships, enterprises can harness the full potential of SD-WAN to stay at the forefront of their industries.

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