Managing the Wide Area Network (WAN) for Redmond Inc., a supplier of industrial and commercial products – from salt that’s used to protect winter roadways to organic dairy products and health items – is an easier job today for the company’s technical project manager Aaron Gabrielson than it was a year ago.
Redmond manages a phone system, point of sale and fax centrally out of headquarters in Heber City, Utah, which means each of Redmond’s 10 branch sites across the Midwest need a reliable connection back to headquarters in Utah. That’s easier for some sites, like those in Salt Lake City, than others, such as rural areas where there may only be a handful of workers on a farm.
It was here that a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) came to the rescue. Gartner estimates that SD-WAN has less than 5% market share today, but it predicts that up to 25% of users will manage their WAN through software within two years. Revenue from SD-WAN vendors is growing at 59% annually, Gartner estimates, and it’s expected to become a $1.3 billion market by 2020. Redmond is an early adopter.
One of the chief characteristics of an SD-WAN is its ability to manage multiple types of connections – from MPLS to broadband to LTE. For Redmond, that’s been hugely helpful.
Gabrielson buys cheap commercial-grade Internet connections at his rural branch sites. The SD-WAN program from VeloCloud aggregates at least two links together to create a single bundled link that’s stronger than either one individually. It provides rural sites with enough bandwidth to use voice over IP (VoIP) and process credit card transactions.
SD-WAN can be thought of as a little brother to its more well-known sibling software-defined networking (SDN). They’re related – both software-defined, but whereas SDN is meant for internal data centers at a campus or headquarter location, SD-WAN takes those similar software-defined concepts and the decoupling of the control plane from the data plane to the WAN. “SDN is an architecture, where as SD-WAN is a technology you can buy,” explains Gartner analyst Andrew Lerner, who tracks the SD-WAN market closely.
Managing a WAN through software provides helpful benefits for Gabrielson. He’s notified of any issues that sprout up and is able to manage his entire WAN through a single interface. In the past, making changes to network configurations in branch offices would have required manual configurations being created and installed and likely an on-site technician to do it. If a business decided to roll out teleconferencing to their branch offices, for example, predefined bandwidth allocations would have to be rearchitected. More bandwidth may need to be acquired, then programmed in and installed at each branch location. “(With SD-WAN) we control the entire WAN, it’s easy to manage, easy to change,” Gabrielson says. “I can control and shape the bandwidth at each location centrally through a GUI. Plus, we get to buy cheap bandwidth while having quality uptime.”
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