Christian Gilby

SD-WAN: The force behind the new world of work

Juniper’s Senior Director of Product Marketing, Christian Gilby, explores how SD-WAN will be key in driving the transformation to new and more distributed ways of working amid the inflection point we’ve hit due to COVID-19.

No one could have predicted it. In what felt like an overnight switch, companies were forced to work from home, due to the Coronavirus that threw everything into disarray.

Two things happened at the same time. Enterprises had to scramble to enable their entire employee base to work remotely, while maintaining productivity and security. Also, whole industries such as financial services and retailers have been under immense pressure to serve customers in new ways. This combination of challenges put a lot on the plates of IT departments, but many have found that SD-WAN will be key in this transformation to new and more distributed ways of working.

According to YouGov figures, a fifth of Brits who had never worked from home before the Covid-19 pandemic had shifted to working from home consistently during the lockdown. In other words, many organisations had to turn on a sixpence and equip a remote workforce with little opportunity beforehand to put the network infrastructure and support mechanisms in place for the employees.

There were obviously negative implications to such a sudden change. For example, the IT departments didn’t know the user experience of the business applications on their employee’s home networks – even the mission critical apps. Their inability to monitor performance and usage patterns meant that they couldn’t anticipate any potential issues the employees would face. To make matters worse, IT workers couldn’t remotely troubleshoot and fix networking issues, which attacked productivity levels at a time when productivity was more important than ever.

Addressing these issues, SD-WAN can increase visibility for companies emerging into a remote working reality for the future. It can also ensure company data is heavily guarded and manage demand for products and services.

The use of AI, in particular, when partnered with SD-WAN can be a huge boon in managing remote enterprise networks and boosting productivity. By seeing what’s taking place across the network at any given time, AI-driven SD-WAN can both find the root of a problem and provide a solution for it. There’s a catalogue of things that could technically go wrong on an enterprise network. By using intelligent SD-WAN, IT departments can save a great deal of time that they would have spent troubleshooting an issue. Consequently, employees can spend more time working and less time wondering why the technology is hindering them from doing their jobs.

Security is an issue that simply cannot be ignored when it comes to enabling employees to work from home. When workers aren’t stationed in the office, there’s an overwhelming amount of confidential data flowing across the network that must be protected. Moving this sensitive data across home and public networks that aren’t configured using the same security parameters as those in the office can carry risk if the right measures aren’t in place.

Businesses are increasingly calling on SD-WAN to improve network security by encrypting traffic and segmenting the network to minimise damage if breaches do occur. Security solutions such as firewall, anti-spam and web filtering are all included here, and they work together to prevent data leakage and network security disruptions. Any IT manager will tell you the amount of work that has to go into securing a network, and how much effort goes into making things right when there’s a breach. SD-WAN helps to lighten the load on IT staff and gives them peace of mind that the network is better protected.

SD-WAN has its benefits in other areas too. Take supply chains, which have been particularly important to get a handle on during the pandemic. Companies that have shifted to the cloud and integrated SD-WAN into product inventory can access cloud resources to power their inventory systems. For example, by integrating SD-WAN into supermarket chains, individual stores can share information on stock levels with each other. So if there’s an increased demand for yeast in one store, stock can be allocated from another branch that doesn’t have as much demand for the same product. That means supermarkets are better positioned to reflect the demands of consumers in real time and can act quickly to make sure their needs are met.

 The current pandemic has upended the way businesses work and networks have to follow suit if firms want to be prepared for the future, which will be increasingly non-office based. With SD-WAN, organisations can benefit from ease of management, security and visibility – three key pillars to business continuity. SD-WAN has become the saving grace for IT managers who need the additional assurances and peace of mind that SD-WAN can provide. Its benefits will be felt long after the COVID-19 crisis has been resolved.

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