Sascha Giese, Head Geek™, SolarWinds, explains why SD-WAN is relevant for the public sector, and how bringing an understanding of the barriers to adoption may encourage other organisations in the sector to follow suite
Wide area networks everywhere are under pressure to keep up with the increasing volume and variety of data traffic. Performance and configuration issues routinely cause headaches for network professionals, who are increasingly turning to SD-WAN as a way to clear the traffic jam.
But what is it?
SD-WAN (or software-defined wide area network) is an architecture beyond dynamic routing and uses software-defined networking to direct traffic and improve connectivity while sending data over vast geographic distances. It’s gaining momentum because it improves agility and productivity while bringing down costs by more effectively routing traffic between locations. For example, SD-WAN can choose what connection to use based on the content to transfer, the other endpoint, the time of day, or any combination of those. Traditional routing can’t really cope anymore with highly dynamic multi-cloud environments.
The relevance of SD-WAN for the public sector—where large and geographically complex networks exist against a backdrop of funding constraints—is increasingly clear. But, as with any emerging technology, barriers to adoption need to be understood to justify investment.
Cost – Optimising it to increase efficiency
Cost considerations are usually focused on two key areas. The first is the business case for SD-WAN, and for those who have used the technology, it’s an easy one to make. Any organisation wanting to save money because it’s wasting network bandwidth and productivity is a candidate for SD-WAN. The upfront cost can become a barrier to buy-in, but the earlier the technology is adopted, the more value it will provide to the organisation.
Secondly, before adoption, public sector IT teams need to ask themselves whether they can implement a custom model, or contract out to a service-based plan. Because SD-WAN is available as SaaS, it’s comparatively inexpensive compared to a custom, DIY setup, and some teams find it offers a good starting point. Later, once they have become acquainted with it—and have it all set up correctly—it can be pulled into a DIY model.
Complexity – Easing the burden of network engineers
For network engineers, working with SD-WAN for the first time can involve a learning curve. But because SD-WAN sits on top of multiple WAN links and uses software-driven policies to select the best data transport mechanism for each application automatically, it ultimately masks complexity.
Let’s draw a comparison; network engineers who are command-line driven and visit each device while putting together a network know mistakes will happen. They also know it takes a lot of time trying to eliminate those mistakes because human error is unavoidable and common.
But, once the SD-WAN hardware has been installed, or necessary licenses have been activated, it can quickly be provisioned. And because it offers a view of the whole network, the network team can see how it’s moving the traffic. The result is that SD-WAN lets users stay ahead of their bandwidth and means they can keep up with service level agreements throughout their offices. It takes a huge burden off the shoulders of the network specialists.
Impact on IT Jobs – New skills and opportunities
Some network engineers worry that the purpose of SD-WAN isn’t to help the organisation; rather, its goal is to replace jobs—a worrying thought given tightening budgets. But SD-WAN isn’t about that; it’s designed to automate decisions and centralise operations while reducing error.
In fact, a highly dynamic environment with multi-cloud deployments and countless offices is barely manageable by a human, but humans will still be required for supervision. The person setting the policies used by SD-WAN still has control over how they’re set up. SD-WAN adoption requires a different mindset. Some engineers may have to move their work to a higher level, but there’s no substitute for people who can design and implement networks.
Fundamentally, SD-WAN is just another tool in a series of technological steps forward where there are new things to learn. For the public sector, it offers a pathway to solving a range of network challenges to tick the performance, reliability, and value boxes important across all sectors of government.
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