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SD-WAN Makes The Cloud Seem Local Software Defined Wide Area Network is a mouthful, but it might just solve your Internet connection problems
By: John Shepler
Are you caught in the great cloud migration? You can almost hear the giant sucking sound of racks and servers being vacuumed up and sent packing to remote data centers. OK, that’s a little dramatic. Even so, the trend of moving more and more telecom and IT functions from in-house to cloud providers is clear. The problem is how to reconnect over vast distances as efficiently as you could with a few hundred feet of Cat6 cable.
The New Internet is SO Much Bigger
The Internet we became comfortable with starting in the mid 90’s is an electronic text messaging system and distributed library of text and images, accessible from anywhere. That has been expanded, of course, to include video content and e-commerce. Even with 20 years of improvements, the traditional Internet experience hasn’t changed that much. You still access what you want through an email client or Web browser. It’s the next morphing of the Internet that makes it so much more comprehensive. This is the expansion of Internet functions to include remote applications and their associated databases, and unified communications in place of the venerable office phone.
The Cloud is a Huge Data Center… But You Can’t See It
There’s really nothing magical or even spooky about “the cloud”. It’s just a metaphor for an enormous data center well beyond your line of sight. Inside the cloud are probably servers, storage drives, routers, switches and miles of cable similar to what you used to have. It’s just the scale that is so jaw dropping. The cost savings that is driving this change of IT operations is due to the multi-tenant nature of clouds. You and a hundred or a thousand of your best friends and total strangers are sharing the same facilities and divvying up the costs.
Where the Internet Goes Horribly Wrong
What we’ll call the legacy Internet is a network of incrementally increasing speed. It mirrors the evolution of the PC. How much have we shelled out over the years to get higher and higher MHz processors, then more and more cores, Kilobytes… Megabytes… and now Gigabytes of RAM, and similar storage capacity that is now in the Terabytes? Similarly, Internet access has gone from a few Kbps dial-up to X.25 connections to DSL, T1 lines, DS3, Cable Broadband, SONET Fiber Optics and now Gigabit Ethernet, 10 GigE and even 100 GigE. You may need some or all of this capacity to support your growing functions in the cloud, but can you afford it?
The problem with your traditional Internet access is that it evolved in parallel with the traditional Internet services. What’s happened with this cloud paradigm is that there has been a step-change in functionality without a corresponding step-change in connectivity. If you try and move your phones to hosted PBX and your applications to Software as a Service over the same old Internet connection, you can find yourself with an office that hardly functions at all. Voice communications are choppy and even dropped. Video tears up and stops. Your apps still work, but it seems to take forever to get a response from the system. Worst case, you could rue the day you ever tried to save a buck with all this new technology.
Can You Put Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again?
It IS possible to get back to the time where everything worked seamlessly and the systems were invisible to everyone using them. Employees want appliances to do their jobs, not finicky tech that may or may give the same result twice in a row. For that to happen, you need to make what’s going on in the cloud act like it’s located right now the hall and not thousands of miles away. What that takes is more appropriate connectivity.
The Internet is a two-edged sword. It’s attractiveness comes from being able to connect anywhere to anywhere, anytime, at dirt-cheap prices compared to private telecom lines and networks. The downside is that it is a public resource where everybody and everything is moving around in one big swarm. You can get clogs where it all moves at a snail’s pace. Some of the information just mysteriously disappears. How you are getting from point A to point B is a mystery and the routing changes by the minute for no discernible reason. That’s OK if you are just looking something up in Wikipedia or buying some parts from a wholesaler. The system was designed to work accurately as long as you can be a little flexible on how fast things run. It’s real time functions like telephone, video conferencing and interactive apps that can’t take the variability in performance without choking.
This is why a lot of the bigger companies have gone to direct cloud access using private point to point connections like Fast Carrier Ethernet or GigE fiber. These lines provide the closest you can get to what you had on your local network. Traditional Internet access is handled by a separate connection that is a lot less expensive for uses that are a lot less demanding.
SD-WAN To The Rescue
A new approach to handling the Internet has appeared in the last few years to improve the performance of broadband connections so they can work with the new cloud applications but not break the bank. It’s a clever mash-up of connectivity that takes advantage of the fact that no two connections over the Internet are likely to experience the same problems at exactly the same time. One broadband service may vary all over the place with speed, latency, jitter and packet loss. Combine several diverse connections and an electronic traffic cop and you’ll have one much, much better service. The cost of two or three cheap wireline, wireless, Cable or satellite services can be a LOT less expensive than a single dedicated line service, but give you nearly the same experience.
What’s happening in the Software Defined Wide Area Network, as it’s called, is that each path through the Internet is monitored constantly as to how it is performing. When the next packet enters the network, the system decides right there and then which path to use. The next packet in line may go the same way, or it might get routed on a different connection if that one is better at that particular instant. There’s a lot of decision making going on in this SD-WAN, but it is invisible to you. You’ve got one connection from your local network, just like you did before.
Are you dissatisfied with using the Internet to support your business, but can’t cope with the eye-popping cost of a dedicated fiber line? Perhaps an SD-WAN approach could give you the performance you really need at a fraction of the cost. Get pricing and learn more about how SD-WAN can make the cloud work so much better.
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