The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered what we think of as ‘normal’, but people and businesses have adapted quickly. In February, the world embarked on what was then termed the “world’s largest work-from-home experiment”. This has proven, by and large, technology works, it can scale, networks can auto-configure to support massive traffic growth from unlikely parts of the network and overall, the demand for remote working arrangements are accelerating across the board. This is all sectors and business sizes. There is also a greater recognition of the need for a reliable, flexible network that boosts digital resilience.
The distinction between the campus and branch are fading. Home offices are fast becoming the new branch – highly distributed, more heterogeneous, but often less secure. To enable their workforce to move from an ‘office-first’ to home or hybrid working environments, one in three organisations in Asia-Pacific are preparing for digital transformation with cloud- and mobile-first strategies, and rolling out cloud-native environments. IT-led transformations such as moving workloads to the cloud and leveraging data analytics have become front-and-centre and will continue to become a priority as economies in the region reopen.
Leading the pack with the right network capabilities
The network will be key to this recovery, and must evolve to support new business requirements. A distributed workforce means increasingly distributed data and applications residing in multiple clouds, edge locations and end-user devices. Furthermore, 5G will see greater integration of wireless access into the corporate network, delivering new capabilities. Executives in Asia-Pacific are already preparing for this.
Nine out of 10 surveyed in the recent Vodafone-GlobalData APAC Ready Network study noted that the adoption of 5G will accelerate the use of next-gen mobile technology for work-related tasks. In fact, an overwhelming majority of APAC enterprises (94%) are currently trialling, deploying or considering the deployment of SD-WAN over the next 12 months. Over 80 per cent of business critical tasks will be from a mobile device.
To stay ahead of ever-changing demands, organisations need to ask themselves a few crucial questions. Can your network keep pace with growing cloud and mobility adoption? Are you able to consolidate and centrally manage disparate network resources? Are there places in your network that could use more automation? Do you have visibility and control of your network traffic, workloads and security profiles? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then it might be prudent to consider adopting SD-WAN. There are many ways it can help with immediate fixes which can be balanced with a longer-term roadmap.
Enabling the journey with the software-defined network
SD-WAN helps organisations overcome network complexities and improve business operations in a number of ways. Enhanced network controls allow enterprises to manage workloads either on-premise or in the cloud to improve business efficiency, while built-in encryption and firewalls relieve companies of the need for specialised talent to actively manage network security. COVID-19 has accelerated work from home and cloud migration in equal measure. Therefore the need for knowing which employee is accessing what file in which context (e.g., identity and access management) is becoming more important.
A successful SD-WAN strategy needs to factor in both overlay (over-the-top network orchestration capabilities) and underlay (network automation and AI-enabled infrastructure) considerations based on your use cases, legacy infrastructure and desired business outcomes. Simply put, that means it needs to be able to service front-end needs such as improving performance of web and SaaS apps, while also working seamlessly with the physical network infrastructure to route traffic and bandwidth efficiently to meet business priorities and support multi-vendor environments. There is also the promise of using AI/ML to understand user intent, undertake detailed root-cause analysis, possibly using unique data sets to make networks self-learning and self-healing.
Realising the full potential of SD-WAN
Enterprise decision makers in Asia-Pacific have identified a number of benefits of SD-WAN best achieved with a combination of overlay and underlay. Thirty-nine percent found that it helps in adding new capacity and redundancy cost effectively, while 33% noted that it helps to improve root cause analysis and lowers overall WAN costs.
To realise these benefits, organisations should choose a telecommunications service provider with expertise and experience in both overlay and underlay. Besides being able to access a centralised view and management of policies, this will also allow companies to better understand the impact of local access technologies on end-user experiences. In addition, a single network service provider allows for intent-based infrastructure focused on outcomes and results.
Building resilience in uncertain business environments
In a world defined by uncertainty, flexibility and resilience will go hand in hand to ensure a firm’s long-term survival. Enterprise networks need to be software-defined to allow agility, and designed with the intelligence to provide the right service levels based on user intent. SD-WAN technology will become an increasingly important step for organisations moving towards a more flexible network, and a more future-ready enterprise that can adapt to changes effectively. As Business Continuity Planning (BCP) gets revisited and updated more often than we have ever seen this in any previous time, ICT strategy and planning will start with the future-ready networks.