Enabling the agile office with SD-LAN

The concept of the “boundaryless organization” was first cited by Jack Welch in the 1990s and relates to breaking down barriers to help people work better together with greater speed and agility. Today, as the world looks to emerge from COVID-19, the concept is even more relevant for businesses wanting to stay competitive. There is a pressing need to control costs and be more efficient in a more expectant, on-demand world: the new software-defined local area network (SD-LAN) can help companies thrive.

The concept of “boundaryless” can bring big benefits in the modern, digital and data-powered era. It’s about using the latest technologies and digital tools to break down traditional borders and perimeters: this can mean flexible working powered by digital tools or unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools. It’s about encouraging collaboration between dispersed teams, often scattered about in varied geographical locations. In order to support this required level of flexibility and agility, multinational corporations (MNCs) with offices around the world need a unified network to more efficiently support these levels of collaboration.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has presented business leaders with a chance to think differently about digital transformation and how to approach it. To support the required level of flexibility and agility, some things to bear in mind include:

  • How can I automate my network further and reduce operating costs?
  • Could I consolidate the number of technology partners I work with?
  • How can my office adapt to a workforce that will split time between the office and home?
  • How do I enforce security policies for employees working from home and offices in an agile manner?
  • Do I have the finances to transform the LAN myself? Should I have these skills if it is not a core aspect of my business?

What is SD-LAN?

SD‑LAN takes the key principles of software defined networking (SDN) to provide benefits to wired and wireless networks. These comprise centralized management, identity-driven access and scalability to provide a centrally-managed, self-healing and self-optimized network. So how can it help enterprises in the new norm?

The changing nature of the network

Traditionally, the LAN is a large CAPEX investment and once deployed can be fairly static, other than in relatively rare events such as an office expansion or relocation. In some cases, the LAN is also managed locally by different parties, posing challenges to governance. These can lead to discrepancies in security posture and configurations, which can cause delayed problem resolution, user experience issues and data protection risks.

The new norm gives us an opportunity to rethink how we approach the LAN, including how organizations approach a network refresh to increase business resilience. Firstly, it’s a chance to consider how you can best empower your employees on their return to the workspace while changing the work environment to make it safer with regard to COVID-19 transmission. An example is setting up smart cameras to help track compliance to health regulations using analytics.

A potential lessening of employee numbers onsite could mean enterprises look to reduce their physical IT footprints or move to a fully wireless solution. In industrial environments, such as manufacturing plants, there is the opportunity to deploy Internet of Things (IoT) sensors with Wi-Fi 6 – the next generation of Wi-Fi. These Smart Factories could require thousands of sensors to monitor and help automate the plants, creating a dense wireless environment that requires Wi-Fi 6 as a technology to support. In contrast, the retail industry meanwhile looks at ramping up and securing contactless transactions and electronic shelf labels.

Enabling these new services necessitates a more efficient way of enabling and managing network services quickly, and SD-LAN can help with this. An example is Zero Touch Provisioning, which helps speed up service provisioning, while at the same time reducing local IT footprint for installation and support.

The need for cost savings and efficiency as drivers

A long-standing IT debate is if adopting a single or multi-technology partner approach could be cheaper. Some organizations are forced to adopt a multi-technology partner approach due to legacy inheritance from mergers and acquisitions. Others choose cheaper technology partners, especially where IT budgets are funded locally. Special regulatory requirements in specific countries also need to be taken into account where encryption is required.

In my view, a multi-technology partner approach could often deliver up-front cost savings, but at the same time there are also hidden costs. Organizations have to learn to work with a new partner and integrate the new partner when their IT team is already busy on other projects. This also adds overhead to operational costs from a supply chain management viewpoint. I believe where centralized visibility and control is required at global/regional level, it might be worth considering a single technology partner for easier integration and better visibility, which is a central feature of SD-LAN.

SD-LAN firstly provides automation. Imagine having a single dashboard managing and enforcing your network and security standards, where you are able to make changes to all your offices globally for your LAN and Wi-Fi. Not only does this greatly reduce the chances for mistakes made by manual changes, it also reduces troubleshooting time by enforcing network standards.

Secondly, SD-LAN provides visibility not just on general inventory, but also on user experience. With more organizations adopting more Wi-Fi, we want our operations team to be able to pinpoint and resolve performance issues and bottlenecks, preferably before the end user raises a ticket.

SD-LAN can provide organizations with highly-scalable and future-ready connectivity for the office, factory, or wherever local secure connectivity is required through a simplified infrastructure that supports LAN, Wi-Fi and cellular.

What does this all mean moving forward and in terms of security? In my next related blog, I expand on best practices for SD-LAN deployments and what to do to ensure security. If you would like to discuss anything to do with SD-LAN, please contact Orange on apac.marketing@orange.com

James Soo
James Soo

James Soo is the SDx Expert for Orange Business Services APAC, headquartered in Singapore. He leads the SD-WAN and SD-LAN practice for the APAC region and has over 19 years of experience across the financial, consulting and telco industries, with global experience covering the UK, Singapore, China and India. He is passionate about how disruptive technology such as SD-WAN, SD-LAN and IoT can bring value to enterprises and how automation and visibility can help create a boundaryless world. When not working, James enjoys diving.