Software-defined wide area network (WAN) technology is making enterprise inroads as organizations discover the value of service at scale. Enterprises are no longer confined to linking sets of perpetually outdated hardware as software-defined WAN solutions offer the flexibility and scalability required to leverage cloud-based resources.
Specifically, this has led to an uptick in the use of service chaining — any set of network services "chained" together through a network to support an application. Once costly and complicated due to its separate infrastructure, the substitution of hardware for software is making these chains viable enterprise endeavors.
Software-Defined WAN: Software Versus Hardware
If you have branch offices that need central network access, WAN is where it's at. The problem is that traditional WANs typically rely on proprietary hardware, which is basically code for "really expensive and breaks too often," meaning IT pros often spend more time fighting fires than driving corporate innovation. Software-defined solutions offload some (or all) of this network control to cloud services, allowing network permissions and services to be easily controlled using centralized applications.
It makes sense: The cloud revolution has companies looking for open source, inherently flexible, and on-demand technologies that empower rather than restrict day-to-day operations. Initially hampered by a market dominated by hype rather than help, the software-defined network has come into its own as an enterprise must-have. Hardware alone is quickly becoming an outdated operational practice.
Unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) is ground zero for software-defined service chaining. Services that demand massive bandwidth commitments and low network latency aren't going to play nicely with hardware-driven networks that constantly require upgrading and demand multiple experienced IT staff to effectively manage and implement. So, it's no surprise the rise of UCaaS and communications platform-as-a-service has driven a similar scaling in software-defined WAN adoption: Who doesn't want to pay less for service chaining while enjoying more responsive network applications?
Software-defined WAN solutions are empowering UCaaS service chains, lowering costs, and changing the enterprise outlook.
What does this mean for enterprises moving forward? Organizations should expect the following key developments:
- Longer Chains: As software-defined solutions evolve and public cloud offerings mature, expect to see longer and more complex chains evolve. Consider the rise of an end-to-end service experience, from user experience monitoring and reporting to interoffice communication and integration across customer relationship management tools.
- Lower Costs: Just as cloud providers are "racing to zero" as this technology becomes more readily available (and reliable), expect to see a downward shift in the cost of building bigger chains, especially as UCaaS providers build out adaptable software-defined networks.
- Limited Hardware: Why start with hardware if you're just going to upgrade it (or retire it) in six months? Expect more businesses to start from a software-first perspective, especially smaller startups and enterprises looking to distinguish themselves from the competition. Those willing to make the shift and embrace software-based service chaining will enjoy a distinct advantage as the app landscape becomes more complex and even cutting-edge hardware struggles to keep pace.
A New Link in the Chain
Service chaining isn't a new concept, either, nor is it complicated. However, service chains historically haven't made much sense because they relied on multiple network devices, each designed to handle a specific service and then cabled together. In addition, application load almost invariably trends upward, creating a chain meant for provisioning extra resources or dealing with instantly out-of-date hardware solutions. Add in high manual error rates and you've got the making of service chains that tie down IT rather than freeing up time and space.
The software-defined solution has the potential to eliminate this headache. According to Network World, software-based chains can help eliminate the need for hardware-based box chains and empower actual service connections instead. And while there's still some vendor hype around the solution, there are real-world benefits, including the following:
- Dynamically Used Resources: Inside the WAN, software services handle complex redirects, rather than multi-step hardware processes.
- Box Replacement: In addition to linking internal services with software connections, companies can also leverage the software-defined networks to integrate public cloud solutions.
- Local Virtualization: By virtualizing entire stacks of local office apps and combining software-defined WANs with network function virtualization, it's possible to reduce the total hardware spend.
It's time to send boxes packing: Software-defined WANs are empowering UCaaS service chains, lowering costs, and changing the enterprise outlook.
Visit Vonage Business to learn more about the evolution of UCaaS and the benefits of SD-WAN.