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How post-pandemic digitalisation has led to the rise of SD-WAN

Gordon Tan
Gordon Tan2/7/2023 04:30 PM GMT+08  • 6 min read
How post-pandemic digitalisation has led to the rise of SD-WAN
The Asia Pacific SD-WAN market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 60% from 2020 to 2026. Photo: Unsplash
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Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) simplifies branch operations and optimises WAN management. At least that is traditionally the reductive "sell" of SD-WAN.

However, the last couple of (oftentimes tumultuous) years have irrevocably changed the configuration of the workplace. Singapore, like many governments worldwide, responded by launching digital inclusion initiatives to help companies here to narrow the gap between digital leaders and laggards to offset pandemic-induced business disruptions.

Indeed, today’s enterprises are demanding a more adaptive model that can flex with their business. But more than just gaining flexibility and agility, organizations are also demanding a secure network that can predict and fix problems before they even happen.

Singapore recently announced that the country is on track to actualising its 2023 target of migrating 70% of workloads to the commercial cloud. However, maintaining top-notch performance and security comes with added complexity given the cloud’s rapid evolution, and is thus critical for organisations to understand the risks associated with cloud migration.

SD-WAN, with its advanced and unified architecture, is proving to be the salve today’s enterprises need to ensure consistent application performance and resiliency from end-to-end, and here is one of the reasons why.

MPLS networks are no longer fit for purpose

See also: Singapore to encourage development of international AI standards by open sourcing AI Verify

More enterprises are looking to SD-WAN because they are increasingly directing their traffic to cloud providers, having become largely reliant on cloud-enabled workloads. Hybrid work, an increasingly active public discourse on the four-day workweek, and the accelerated pace of digital transformation across sectors, are all working in concert to trounce rigid, complex multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) router-based networks in use today.

MPLS – which has powered enterprise networks for more than two decades – is not only expensive but is starting to show its age, because it was designed to serve geographically dispersed branch offices that relied on backhauling traffic to data centers.

Businesses today factor in new network considerations as cloud adoption in Asia Pacific has not only soared over the past five years, but is expected to lead the way with a tripling in IT cloud spend by 2024 to more than US$116 billion. MPLS is clearly not made for today's digital-centric and multi-cloud world.

See also: Singapore to encourage adoption of quantum-safe technologies

Your digitalisation success depends on SD-WAN

As organisations embrace more open and cloud-hosted environments, the Asia Pacific SD-WAN market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 60% from 2020 to 2026.

This is happening because as organisations modernise their traditional network architecture to adopt cloud computing and cloud security measures to stay ahead of the curve, SD-WAN is increasingly crucial as it allows enterprises to leverage any combination of transport services—MPLS, LTE, broadband internet services, and 5G—to securely connect users to applications no matter where they are.

One could say that the adoption of SD-WAN is one of the key determining factors as to whether enterprises succeed in their digital transformation efforts as they adopt emerging technologies like the internet of things (IoT), machine learning and artificial intelligence, and others.

This may sound like an exaggeration, but SD-WAN truly enables the delivery of exceptional experiences to increase the efficiency and experience of using cloud-hosted applications, an important factor when more and more organisations are adopting software-as-a-service (SaaS) and network-as-a-service (NaaS) solutions.

Not all SD-WAN solutions are created equal

Advanced SD-WANs intelligently steer the traffic to the internet and use SaaS optimisation techniques, such as machine learning, to automatically select the best path for application data.

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Moreover, hybrid work means that organisations can no longer create a security perimeter around the enterprise network and expect it to work successfully. Instead, they are pressed to tackle new security challenges associated with the proliferation of IoT devices in these new environments. IoT devices present a unique challenge as most were not built with security in mind, quickly pushed to market, and not regularly (or ever) updated with patches to close any potential security gaps.

An advanced SD-WAN solution recognises these devices, provides the necessary security checks to an organisation’s security service edge (SSE) vendor, and intercepts and secures IoT device traffic to segment any threats and prevent lateral movement in the event of a breach.

In a sense, it is now more important than ever for enterprises to embrace a secure access service edge (SASE) framework. Through SASE, advanced SD-WAN can easily extend and integrate security functions for almost any use case, including IoT and the remote-access edge, meaning anything from a remote worker to a point-of-sale device or surveillance camera—vital given that more sensitive data is located outside the enterprise network than ever before.

SD-WAN coupled with SSE capabilities such as secure web gateway, cloud access security broker and zero trust network access offer a more effective cybersecurity solution for the modern network.

As cloud workloads push further to the edge, enterprises can rely on advanced SD-WAN to implement role-based policies that only give users and devices access to destinations consistent with their role and security posture—this is a capability most regular SD-WAN solutions are not able to perform.

Lastly, given that Asia is the world’s manufacturer, it is critical for enterprises in this region to be able to dynamically segment and isolate traffic based on context. This is especially true in the era of industry 4.0, where the number of industrial IoT devices is skyrocketing and IT and operational technology networks are converging and raising concerns about cybersecurity risks.

SD-WAN was created for today's enterprise

Gartner forecasts that 30% of new SD-WAN procurements will be in the form of NaaS by 2026. As enterprises accelerate their transformation towards becoming cloud-first organisations, advanced SD-WAN integrates and automates orchestration of their networks with best-of-breed third-party cloud security providers, and improves secure network access to protect workers, no matter where they are.

With the myriad challenges plaguing the world's economies, it has never been more vital for enterprises to ensure their networks are modernised and optimised to drive the successful deployment of digital solutions. An advanced SD-WAN solution is game-changing and might just be the secret to putting your digital transformation journey in the fast lane.

Gordon Tan is a consulting system engineer manager for Southeast Asia, Taiwan and Hong Kong/Macau at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

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