Six Things to Consider When Selecting an SD-WAN Solution

SD-WAN Solution

Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) solutions are quickly gaining traction as a preferred way to connect users to their applications. And for good reason. As companies rely more and more on cloud-based applications and the internet, historic WAN architecture that sent traffic from branch locations to a data center at company headquarters no longer makes sense. It causes delays, degrades the performance of applications, and consumes expensive leased-line bandwidth.

As a result, more and more companies are making the move to an application-aware SD-WAN solution that uses software to more intelligently route traffic based on the business requirements for an application. If you’ve decided your business could benefit from an SD-WAN solution and you’re preparing to make the leap for your company, there are six critical things you need to keep in mind to select the best SD-WAN solution to suit your needs.

Architecture of the SD-WAN Solution

One major thing to consider when exploring SD-WAN solutions is whether you want a cloud-based, on premise, or combination architecture for your solution. With a cloud-based solution, there’s less hardware to manage. There’s usually no requirement to host a server onsite. Cloud-based solutions can be configured to receive automatic updates and feature upgrades. Companies that don’t have the trained staff or time to manage equipment might opt for a completely cloud-based solution.

Some people are more comfortable with a physical appliance they can touch, plug in, and manage. While cloud-based solutions are very secure, some customers feel physical on-premise devices offer more security. They like to have control of the physical devices and know what upgrades and updates are being applied to their network before they happen.

Customers sometimes ask us which option is best, but there isn’t a right-or-wrong answer to that question. We often find the best solutions blend both cloud-based and physical functionality. But it really depends on a number of factors that are specific to your company’s needs. So we have a series of questions we ask that help determine the architecture that will allow you to get the most out of your SD-WAN solution.

Network Security Provided by the SD-WAN

An SD-WAN is basically a solution that builds VPNs over some type of WAN connection so all sites can be connected together. When deploying this solution to connect to the public internet, you need to have security features built in. You need to select a platform that allows for the encryption methods and security elements that are important to you.

Many solutions, especially those that are cloud-based, provide software updates for security vulnerabilities. Cloud-based solutions keep up with security threats almost automatically. But it’s important you select a vendor you know is on top of their game with security updates. Many solutions also feature a licensable integrated advanced threat protection against malware and internet attacks. It’s also common for solutions to include an intrusion prevention system (IPS) and allow you to control where users can go on the internet.

When looking at physical solutions, it’s important to consider how difficult it will be to keep up with the security updates. While performing the actual update is typically a pretty small lift, if it causes an outage it introduces new headaches. Cloud-based solutions are always up.

SD-WAN Connectivity Bandwidth Specifications

What are your bandwidth needs today and how do you expect them to change in the next three to five years? It’s important to identify an SD-WAN solution that will grow to the specs of your future connectivity needs. Especially if you have locations in rural areas where there are limited options for WAN connections, you might need to look for solutions that have optimization and acceleration features built in. When you’re unable to get an optimal connection, these solutions will help you to get the most performance out of your available links.

You don’t want an appliance at a remote site to become a bottleneck. Every appliance has throughput specifications. It’s important to select an appliance that will be able to support you internet connection and have the ability to grow as your specs increase. It’s important to also determine how easy it is to add on new sites, and understand the equipment and licensing needs for them.

Cost Savings of SD-WAN Options

For some of our customers, cost savings is the most important consideration when choosing an SD-WAN solution. The primary cost benefit of utilizing SD-WAN is it enables you to use low cost public internet circuits instead of more expensive private internet circuits. Secure WAN activity can replace those traditional MPLS circuits, and you can create secure tunnels for traffic across public internet.

The lower cost means you can use two or more cheaper public internet circuits and have the same security with more paths. Using two public internet circuits is considerably more affordable than one private MPLS or fiber connection.  So if one WAN fails, you have backup connectivity. It’s a more affordable way to have always-on high-speed internet access.

This is becoming more important as the number of people working from home is at an all-time high. Many SD-WAN solutions offer an easy way to send an appliance out for users to work from home. They offer a smaller SD-WAN gateway meant for home users, allowing remote workers to plug into the internet and have all of the functionality they would have in the office.

Complexity of SD-WAN Management

It’s also important to consider the resources you have to manage your SD-WAN solution. You don’t want to chase bells and whistles you don’t need just to end up with a more complex network that requires more people and time than you have available.

While there are solutions available that can accomplish almost anything, many of our customers are looking to scale back the complexity and make the system easier to manage. So it’s important to consider the functionality you need versus what’s available. If you will be adding new sites to the network in the future, you may be interested in solutions that allow you to deploy zero-touch provisioning. As an admin, you can send the device to a new site, it can be plugged in, and it will register and configure itself and start working without any intervention from an IT technician. We typically recommend this for anyone with 10 or more sites to manage, or companies that are geographically spread out and don’t have IT support at all locations.

It’s important to note that the features customers need drive the complexity of their solution. More features will come with additional management complications. At a minimum, you need a solution that allows you to monitor the health of the network, receive notifications, and make day-to-day changes as needed. For more complex requirements, Applied Technologies often helps customers build profiles to make the infrastructure work. Prebuilt profiles make feature-rich solutions more manageable for on-site tier 2 or 3 engineers to manage.

Automated Traffic Routing Needs

One of the most advantageous features of an SD-WAN solution is the ability to automatically route traffic across different WAN connections based on congestion and network performance. The SD-WAN can be utilized to automatically use the best connection for the most critical traffic and lower quality connections or less critical traffic, like guest access for instance. Most SD-WAN solutions can do this, but some are better than others and can monitor and respond to traffic in real time. These self-learning systems can allow you to configure policies that ensure critical traffic is always guaranteed a certain amount of bandwidth, and what’s left over is fair game for other traffic.

Traditional WANs can accomplish this, but not very easily. SD-WAN turns a very manual and time-consuming process into a simple task with dashboards that show you how the solution is working and how traffic is being used.

Make the Right Decision for You with Applied Technologies

As your partner in deploying an SD-WAN solution, Applied Technologies can help you make the right decisions for your organization’s needs. We meet you where you are on your SD-WAN journey, listen to your concerns and unique circumstances, and help you find and implement the solution that will provide the greatest impact. Whether you’ve already made up your mind on what you need or you’re just getting started, Applied Technologies can architect and deliver a solution to get you where you need to be. Reach out to our team today to start the conversation.

Propel Your Business into the Future with a Network Assessment from Applied Technologies

 

The Frankenstein Network

 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Dr. Frankenstein, a determined young chemist who brings a creature to life that’s not quite what he intended to create. While his intentions were good, the ultimate reality of his creation brought a host of unintended consequences.

 

At Applied Technologies, we’re often reminded of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation when we examine plant floor networks.

 

The Current State of The Plant Floor Network

Building a plant floor network and adding components along the way isn’t quite as straightforward as it may seem. Like Dr. Frankenstein, those on the plant floor know all of the fundamentals and have a pretty good grasp on the various switches and components that are plugged in. However, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that isn’t immediately obvious to those who are in charge of managing the system. These things can impact the operation of the network in other areas and result in unexpected situations. In fact, when we plug in to get a handle on the traffic moving through the plant floor network, it’s often astonishing. Most don’t have a full understanding of how much traffic is moving at any one given time, or a full inventory of everything they’re dealing with.

What causes this high volume of traffic? We’ve found that most industrial networks have been built in a flat, open manner with components plugged in over a span of decades as additional functionality is required. Everything is running on the same highway, and all machines can see every other machine on the network. It’s a situation that isn’t necessarily “broken” – like Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, it can “walk and talk” – but it sure does leave the door open for problems. Think of the 1,000-plus devices that are plugged into your network. When left to play in the same space, they not only can cause unintended consequences for other devices on your network, they can open up security issues that you may not be aware of.

If this sounds like your plant floor network, you’re not alone. And if you’re inclined to think that this isn’t applicable to your network (everything is working, so it’s fine!), you may be surprised to learn what’s happening behind the scenes. In fact, an ad-hoc, “Frankenstein” network is the norm in most situations. The Applied Technologies team has worked with industrial clients for more than 30 years to build and maintain organized, efficient networks. The process begins with a comprehensive Network Assessment.

 

When You Should Start to Consider a Network Assessment

Companies understand the need for more efficient design and management of their networks. They are looking for greater efficiency, increased security, and the ability to leverage data to progress towards their overall business objectives. The Frankenstein network doesn’t work for them. It won’t drive them to the future or allow them to excel in a competitive environment.

Many customers begin thinking about the health of their network at key points of their existence. Perhaps they have a new device or switch that needs to be plugged in. Maybe there is a piece of software or hardware that’s due for an upgrade.  Regardless, in most cases, they don’t have a strategic plan or full picture of the network. Some know this, and others don’t. We’ve found that there are four predominant mindsets in the management of plant floor networks:

  • The unaware … these are the folks that live in bliss. Their network is working, so everything must be OK.
  • The confident … those who believe they know exactly what is happening in their network, and what will happen when that next device is plugged in.
  • The worriers … they know something catastrophic will happen one day, and they’re anticipating the pain that they’ll go through when it does. They pray every time a new device is plugged in that nothing will go wrong.
  • The duct tape masters … they’ve become the experts of putting in a little patch here and there to keep things running. In most cases, duct tape masters have been around for a long time, and no one really knows where all their patches are. Which may be OK today, but when they retire or leave the company, they take that knowledge with them.

The Network Assessment from Applied Technologies is the primary step in pulling back the curtain on your plant floor network. Through this process, we can show the unaware and the confident all the things they may not know. We give comfort to the worriers and identify all the patches made by the duct tape masters over the years. Our goal is to help our customers build their networks so they can be efficient, productive, and excel in their industries.

 

The Network Assessment covers the following areas:

  • Network traffic analysis
  • Inventory of all devices, switches and hardware installed on the system
  • Security assessment to identify vulnerabilities
  • Network stability
  • Recommendations for network segmentation

With the insights delivered through the Network Assessment, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about how to scale your network moving forward, how to get the greatest level of efficiency, stability and security, and how you can begin to leverage smart manufacturing in your business.

Every company can benefit from a Network Assessment.  It really doesn’t matter your company size, number of years in business or your industry.  No company is immune to problems if they don’t have a well-designed and documented network.

Don’t wait until something breaks to assess your network. Contact Applied Technologies today at 636.274.8000 or sales@appliedtech.pro, and start seeing the benefits of moving away from a Frankenstein network. Once you uncover the possibilities, you’ll experience a great, worry-free ride.

NetApp HCI Meets Public Clouds to Simplify Storage and Processing

 

In order to compete in today’s business environment, companies strive to identify ways to simplify processes to create efficiencies and speed up their go-to-market time.  While there are many process and technology enhancements that can contribute, there is a fundamental way that organizations of all types and sizes can change the way they approach their IT infrastructure – that solution is hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), taken to the next level with NetApp Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure (HCI).

 

NetApp HCI is a revolutionary way to manage data and applications leveraging an on-premise cloud environment. NetApp HCI has changed the traditional model of hybrid cloud storage and made it possible for a company to have a system that combines on-premise and cloud functionality in the three major public Clouds.  It serves as the fabric that holds all of the pieces of your overall architecture together, allowing for seamless movement of data and workflows from one to the next, and back again.

 

How is NetApp HCI fundamentally different?

A NetApp HCI can scale compute and storage independently. Users now have the power to run applications and maintain efficient storage space needed for the workloads. Previous HCI architectures combined those capabilities, which consumed valuable resources both from an infrastructure perspective and a financial one. The traditional architecture was clumsy; NetApp HCI streamlines infrastructure solutions and makes application environment options simpler and more efficient.

A user can mix and match different storage nodes without making any changes at the compute layer and vice versa. This is incredibly powerful when it comes to expanding storage capacity or compute resources one node at a time. NetApp HCI was developed for large enterprises, so it can be scaled in a large corporate scenario, but it is accessible enough to be easily and efficiently deployed in smaller organizations and even the Edge. This makes NetApp HCI an agile technology that any industry can benefit from regardless of size or scope while achieving enterprise-grade levels of resources, performance, and protection.

Why utilize NetApp HCI?

Any corporation facing a new technology development or looking to expand their storage or computing capabilities can benefit from NetApp’s hybrid cloud architecture:

  • Speed … the system provides the highway for information to move more quickly through your organization. This means that your internal and external customers have the data and services they need more readily available as there is a smooth conduit in place to facilitate on-premise and cloud communication – regardless of what cloud your data and workflow reside in. NetApp HCI delivers an elastic hybrid cloud infrastructure that enables customers to start anywhere, run anywhere, and manage everywhere from Edge, to Core, to Cloud.
  • Scale-on-Demand … need more storage space but not more processing power, or vice versa? You can quickly scale your system, on your terms, to meet your specific needs. Due to the modular nature of the system and included automation, it is quick and easy to add or reallocate what you need as your requirements change ultimately reducing TCO.
  • Security … you can have the best of both worlds with a cloud-operational environment located on-premise, maintaining a hybrid cloud, while still securing your applications with built-in security features such as multi-factor authentication, data at rest encryption, and FIPS 140-2 Level 1.
  • Control … there can be layers of complexity when it comes to fully managing your IT in the cloud. You can gain the control and governance you need with a NetApp HCI solution.
  • Flexibility … NetApp HCI is multi-cloud and supports multiple hybrid-cloud solutions such as those from VMware, Google, and RedHat delivering an agile foundation for your private and hybrid cloud infrastructure.
  • Guaranteed Performance … in a traditional environment, you may find processes competing for resources at the same time, in different areas of your production workflow. The NetApp architecture allows you the visibility into these resource demands in order to allocate them for maximum speed and efficiency while guaranteeing performance for all of your applications through three-dimensional QoS capabilities.

 

How is NetApp HCI Implemented?

Discovery & Goal Setting: The discovery process begins with a meeting to determine your company’s overall objectives and the storage and compute needs that will be required to achieve those objectives. The goal of this process is to gain an understanding of the resource requirements needed in the environment. The team leverages assessment tools to gain a thorough picture of what is already running in the environment, what modifications may be in order, and what the key objectives from leadership may be. This might include striving for a reduction in complexity or cost, or a move to a new environment for example.

Easy Implementation: The time needed to implement is dependent on how large the cluster is, but in general it is a streamlined and consolidated process depending on the following factors:

  • If a customer already has VMware in the environment and the network is determined to be in appropriate working order, HCI can attach to an existing vCenter, so it can shift to the new infrastructure with VMotion.
  • The only migration required is moving the VMs to the new hardware, which is done through VMware’s typical mechanisms.
  • If there is no VMware present, the process entails more planning in order to implement.
  • After implementation, if you need more compute or storage, you may easily add either (or both if needed) through the NetApp Deployment Engine. The beauty of the system is that you can scale independently, using the new available nodes which are easy to absorb into the cluster.

Partner Collaboration: Partnerships are key in ensuring the success of NetApp implementations. NetApp Partners, such as Applied Technologies, hold the valuable experience and intimate knowledge of each customer’s needs, goals, and challenges. These insights allow for the creation of a comprehensive technology plan that can include the NetApp HCI solution working in concert with other hardware and software platforms for maximum performance and advancement towards the customer’s goals.

NetApp HCI’s innovative design combines the best methods for managing data and applications. You no longer need to pay for extra storage or compute you don’t need while still benefiting from an enterprise-grade infrastructure with guaranteed performance. The bottom line is, NetApp HCI creates more flexibility, eliminates complexity, and drives costs down while accelerating new services for faster time to market speeds.  As a preferred NetApp partner, Applied Technologies will help you understand how your company can leverage the system which is scalable, delivers the speed you need, and allows for the security and control you’re looking for.

To begin the conversation contact us at sales@appliedtech.pro or call 636.274.8000 to discuss your business requirements with one of our Account Managers or Practice Leaders.