By Daniel Blackwell, Pulsant
The migration to hybrid working in thousands of organisations is set to have many consequences, including a surge in the use of SaaS, cloud services and distributed applications.
The adoption of a mixture of office and remote working may once have looked ephemeral, but a McKinsey global survey of senior executives in large corporations found nine-in-10 intend on continuing with a combination of on-site and remote working beyond the pandemic. Businesses that had maintained connectivity and facilitated ‘microtransactions’ between employees through the most trying times were found by McKinsey to have sustained higher levels of productivity.
Such a major change in the way that enterprises function is only made possible by the user-friendly effectiveness of today’s ever-expanding galaxy of big-name business applications, or increased adoption of collaboration tools such as Slack, Dropbox, Zapier and Trello. All these applications depend on fast, high-bandwidth networks which are resilient and available.
You need to see the applications on your network
As a result of this embedding of hybrid work practices, it’s now more important than ever that organisations know where applications are moving throughout their infrastructure and how best to manage and control them to deliver optimal performance. The reliance on applications is increasing pressure to ensure performance, reliability, and security.
This means focusing attention on networks to avoid lacklustre performance. For network operators, this dictates a shift towards application-aware networks to provide detailed reporting and intelligence to route applications down the best path.
In the digital economy, application experience can make or break a business. Yet, achieving visibility over applications isn’t easy. It often takes far too long to troubleshoot and identify the root cause of a latency or performance problem and develop a resolution. Greater visibility from an application-aware network allows businesses to understand and fix application issues faster, saving them time and the cost of traditionally complex troubleshooting processes.
Security is a concern too
Security is also a major concern along an extended attack surface that may include hundreds of connections to employees’ homes. Many home networks use easily guessed or default passwords or may be configured without encryption, providing a far easier avenue for an attacker to gain access to a corporate network.
Applying security policies to each remote worker can be complex and expensive. For example, applying the same policies and controls could require deploying a firewall at each employee’s home which is not only costly but creates substantial management overheads.
Alternatively, each employee could be provided with a remote VPN connection back to a central office location, but as organisations increasingly move to decentralised services with SaaS and public cloud, it doesn’t make sense to route traffic back through an office location.
The role of SD-WAN
Organisations now need to resolve these difficulties through the implementation of application-aware networks. Their primary route is through SD-WAN technology (software-defined networking in a wide area network) which gives visibility over applications and enables organisations to control and direct traffic intelligently and securely from a central location across the WAN.
Unlike traditional WAN architectures which lack the central visibility and control required for distributed IT environments, SD-WAN delivers a step change for businesses, providing the agility for businesses to configure and make changes to multiple devices at the simple push of a button, saving time and increasing efficiency. Organisations can enforce their policy, based on user experience, with network priority given to the most business-critical applications so they avoid problems such as jitter, lag or brownouts.
And because they can reduce the time required for configuration and trouble-shooting, businesses employing SD-WAN benefit from significant operational cost savings. Rolling out new applications becomes quicker and less costly across multiple sites. As more organisations adopt SaaS and cloud-based services, SD-WAN and application-aware networking are therefore becoming business-critical necessities.
The role of the edge computing
SD-WAN is the cornerstone of the application-aware network. By understanding what applications are used across the network, organisations can classify and apply appropriate application tuning to ensure optimum performance for each user. However, application-aware networking can also work alongside an edge computing strategy to drive further efficiencies.
Edge computing is the confluence of cloud and physical data, which exists wherever the digital and physical world intersect, and enables data to be collected, generated, and processed close to the end-user to create new value. Whereas it would previously have been impossible to sustain high-speed data transfers necessary for applications using AI in almost all of the UK, edge data centres can now run analytics locally once models have been trained on masses of data in the public cloud.
These advanced capabilities open the door to industrial IoT applications such as digital twin technologies that reshape manufacturing and logistics operations or advanced automation to transform the efficiency of manufacturing, extraction and refining processes, even in isolated sites.
Edge either works independently of SD-WAN and application-aware networking or in conjunction with it to enable organisations to identify and prioritise application traffic. This has proved to be well-suited to the multi-cloud environment that many large enterprises increasingly adopt.
SD-WAN in the core network of an edge platform and at the on-ramp to the public cloud will underpin high application performance for an organisation regardless of its location, overcoming any potential latency or congestion problems with the data that must be backhauled to a hyperscaler’s hub for processing. Security is significantly strengthened through monitoring and encryption between different sites.
The advantages of application-aware networks have become obvious
Triggered by the pandemic, the expansion of hybrid working has made the gains of application-aware networks obvious. As networks become increasingly software-defined and edge computing platforms expand and become fully operational, businesses benefiting from SD-WAN have access to far greater levels of application intelligence to improve connectivity, efficiency, and performance. They enjoy faster resolution of the network problems hindering application performance and reducing the strain placed on their workloads.
By combining the operational and visibility benefits of application-aware networks and SD-WAN, with the low latency and high bandwidth of edge computing, businesses can offer new levels of customer experience and service. This becomes possible almost regardless of the strength of their network connection. They can deploy powerful new applications quickly and with full confidence in their performance and resilience.
This is a major advantage, freeing almost everyone in an organisation to focus on creating value and advancing digital transformation.