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Optimizing business communications networks by combining SD WANs and MPLS

Author: Shane Schick

There's no shortage of options when it comes to networks, but those options don't always have to replace one another. By deploying a software-defined wide-area network (SD WAN), an organization can instead take an evolutionary approach to business communications.

The evolutionary approach hinges on an SD WAN's ability to automatically determine the most efficient way to route traffic to and from branch offices and data centers. It also adds intelligence to the network so that the suggested route is based on a particular policy, like what kind of performance an application needs to deliver. Imagine a GPS that helps a driver avoid congested roads but also chooses a route that passes a particular service station.

This capability can substantially improve application quality and performance and give IT departments a faster, easier and sometimes cheaper way to set up new locations by creating templated site types with common application characteristics which can be configured centrally, without having to configure each new location independently. It also addresses another long-standing IT pain point by simplifying the overall policy management of a hybrid network architecture.

Of course, the shortcuts or detours a GPS suggests might not recognize potholes on the chosen road, and an SD WAN is no different. You still need a quality hybrid network that includes strong public internet, Ethernet, broadband, wireless and, finally, MPLS.

Why MPLS endures

Even in light of an SD WAN's benefits, many organizations aren't ready to abandon the investments they've sunk into multiprotocol label switching, or MPLS.

MPLS has been the gold standard in corporate environments for years because it is a highly secure, highly flexible, and highly reliable network topology that is very predictable in its performance, while creating a secure boundary for a corporation or agency.

Though an SD WAN and MPLS have often been positioned as an either-or choice, an SD WAN requires an underlying transport like MPLS or broadband. They work in what is sometimes called a hybrid WAN, where MPLS can be combined with another transport service for maximum efficiency. This takes us back to the idea of an evolutionary approach—one in which an SD WAN is overlaid on an MPLS network and supercharges it for additional connectivity as dictated by business needs. When organizations choose the right hybrid platform provider, placing an SD WAN on top of it means they can scale bandwidth to accommodate their traffic.

Building on the benefits of an SD WAN and business communications

Combining transport services with your business communications means that you can maximize the benefits of new tools without abandoning what's mission critical about the old ones.

The benefits of an SD WAN include the ability to centralize admin management as companies expand far beyond their headquarters and the ability to set up new locations with zero-touch provisioning. At the same time, having diverse hybrid connections gives an SD WAN the capability to select the optimal path for routing traffic with a secondary path to take over the traffic flow if the first line experiences latency, jitters or packet loss.

An SD WAN that is an overlay to a hybrid network platform composed of a mixture of MPLS and public internet/broadband/wireless connections can deploy enterprise wide policies ensuring that applications critical to serving customers always select the appropriate network path while directing non-mission critical applications through an alternate path. This infused intelligence within a hybrid network architecture takes advantage of the strengths associated with the underlying network connections while maximizing a firm's ability to remain up and operational.

Partnering for SD WAN success

Not every organization has the resources to pull a hybrid WAN together on its own. It can take a lot of expertise to develop an access strategy that considers how and where users and applications will intersect and the performance and resiliency required to facilitate those intersections.

The right partner can offer a managed SD WAN service that provides the tools and expertise that businesses need to reduce latency and bottlenecks and free IT staff from configuration and maintenance issues that prevent them from performing more valuable tasks.

Though the return on investment for SD WAN projects is typically measured in reduced capital and operating costs and improved IT productivity, additional value will be felt across the entire business. A successful project will enable a company to speed its growth and expand into new markets. At the same time, improved network capability can boost trust in technologies that rely on consistent network uptime and secure communications—technologies that customers expect and government regulators demand.

As applications continue to grow exponentially, organizations need to be confident that they have the right technology in place to support their business needs. An SD WAN can give them that, but not unless they can trust their partner to effectively design, implement and manage deployments instead of introducing more complexity.

In the end, improving business communications networks might not necessitate anything as dramatic as a total overhaul. If handled correctly, the impact of a simple evolution could be just as transformative.

Learn how to get started by exploring Verizon's Managed SD WAN today.