Next-Generation Networking for Cloud-Scale Applications
Enterprises today face an environment in which innovative use of technology has become a critical element in achieving business success. From a pop-up retail store selling sunglasses in San Francisco to a handicraft leather goods company in Vietnam to a multinational selling cheap, chic clothing in Spain, businesses today can engage and sell to a global market from day one of business inception.
Advanced, on-demand logistics and marketplaces combined with easy availability of, and access to, cloud-based infrastructure — from Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) to Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) — allow businesses large and small to build scalable companies with minimal investment. The key to success comes down to reliable, efficient, and effective connectivity across all business locations and to cloud services. In this research brief, we’ll examine new thinking about connectivity options that businesses should consider as they evaluate their networking strategy.
The New Business Mandate
While businesses run the gamut in terms of their key characteristics, today’s agile companies can generally be described as:
- Highly competitive — With the rise of technology, previously local businesses like clothing, taxicabs, and hotels have turned into global markets enabled by Amazon Wardrobe, Lyft, and Airbnb. The competition is no longer just the shop down the street but often includes a cloud-based giant coordinating local resources to offer goods and services more efficiently.
- Loosely coupled — Businesses have to be agile and will reconfigure often. Boundaries between who’s inside the company and who’s outside blur as partners and contractors are on-boarded and off-boarded. Remote and partner locations move fluidly across organizational boundaries. This all adds to challenges around secure connectivity that needs to adapt rapidly to constant re-configurations.
- Cloud dependent — More than just being cloud-centric, most enterprises today are dependent on continuous connectivity to cloud services. Even if an enterprise has not built their applications on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), or on PaaS platforms like Heroku, they likely use SaaS, Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) and web-based services that require reliable ongoing connectivity with good quality of service (QoS).
- Core-focused — Many enterprises today subscribe to the concept of focusing on core competencies, where they genuinely are differentiated and bring value-add to the domain they are building products or services in. These enterprises then outsource all other non-core activity. With on-demand services that handle everything from HR, property management, front- and back-office IT, travel, expenses, and payroll, this philosophy reduces the barrier to starting and scaling new businesses.
Evolution of Enterprise Communication Needs
The communications infrastructure that can catapult businesses to success needs to leverage the best technologies today cost efficiently. With the current business mandate, communications infrastructure for companies, in particular their WAN connectivity, needs to meet the following requirements:
- Fast turn-up — The ability to bring up or down new business locations across the globe in days or weeks, not months is essential. Agile organizations need the flexibility to move offices or retail location to address their customer needs. With the dependence on connectivity to the cloud, and across remote locations, the WAN needs to be on-demand.
- High bandwidth — Fast connections must be provided at each business location but at a reasonable cost. Today’s businesses have bandwidth requirements driven by large file and data transfers, unified communications, use of cloud-based backup, and SaaS file sharing as well as increased used of streaming media. The WAN solution will likely need to leverage broadband DIA options to achieve the bandwidth cost metrics necessary for today’s budget-conscious businesses.
- Enterprise-grade security —Sound defense against today’s threats is essential. With security attacks growing in both volume and sophistication, remote sites are particularly vulnerable. In particular, retail organizations will need to conform to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), while healthcare businesses in the U.S. will need network segmentation to meet Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance. Different organizations will have different security needs, ranging from next-gen firewall-type features to more advanced malware detection capabilities.
- Multi-cloud support — Enterprise applications and data stores that may reside across multiple public clouds, or private clouds will need to be supported. Many enterprises today are dependent on cloud services to run their businesses. The ability to connect effectively and securely to AWS, Azure, GCP, and resources within those clouds — such as virtual private clouds (VPCs), storage and database services — is critical.
- Reliability — It is important to prevent connectivity outages that directly cause business downtime. For example, specific businesses like retail, healthcare and manufacturing might be particularly sensitive to connection outages. These businesses require ongoing connections to validate credit card payments, pull down patient records and place pharmacy orders, or update ERP systems. Even departments within a business, like sales, would be dependent on their VoIP systems staying up to services customers.
- Intelligent quality of service (QoS) — This ensures that, on a per application basis, business applications perform with fast response times to keep employees productive. As an example, a business might be reliant on UCaaS for communication but doesn’t care about YouTube streaming. The WAN solution needs to provide necessary bandwidth as well as limited latency and loss to ensure that the UCaaS solutions perform well and other media consumption never compromises this QoS.
- Simple management — Simplifying deployment for new locations and streamlining bulk changes across a large number of sites is critical to ensure IT productivity. The solution also needs to support enterprises with different levels of IT sophistication with options for self-management, co-management, or fully-managed WAN services. As part of management, the platform needs to provide comprehensive visibility, easy troubleshooting, and fast remediation.
SD-WAN: Enabling the Next-Gen Cloud-based Network Provider
Naturally, existing communication service providers (CSPs) with last-mile assets in place are aggressively deploying SD-WAN technology to provide managed connectivity services. They hope to sell value-add services and use SD-WAN as a platform for offering further managed services. For these CSPs, the hard work is in transitioning existing telco infrastructure to an agile model via network function virtualization (NFV) platforms. For many who are used to selling fixed or mobile basic service plans, the challenge will also include orchestrating multiple last-mile options, some of which may be offered by other providers, including existing competitors. For these network providers, the potential cannibalization of existing or future premium MPLS revenues can create internal friction between divisions, slowing down SD-WAN technology roll-out.
SD-WAN also provides a foundation to usher in a new generation of network providers, one that can genuinely offer the Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) experience in just about any location across the globe. In some ways, it’s strange to talk about a new generation of over-the-top (OTT) network providers running on existing network provider circuits and mobile networks, yet this is not unusual. If we look at Voice over IP (VoIP) and Unified Communications, we see a voice service running over the same twisted pair that used to carry plain old telephone service lines. Of course, we’ve moved the underlying lines to provide a digital carrier for IP-based data via DSL technology in the same way that a cable network that used to carry just TV channels now transmits IP data for video-on-demand.
The significant impact SD-WAN has made on network infrastructure is just beginning.
In its next phase, SD-WANs will be merged with cloud services, delivering monumental gains in agility far beyond what’s previously been possible.
To learn about these changes and how to best plan for them, read this report – “Network as an OTT Service – A New Enterprise Option” by principle analyst at AvidThink, Roy Chua.