SD-WAN as a Service: The Answer to a Changing Workforce?
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed virtually every aspect of our normal lives. Businesses and supply chains have been forced to adapt quickly if they want to remain afloat. While many organizations enabled a percentage of their workforce to work remotely before the pandemic, now the majority have had to adapt their operations to support a completely remote workforce.
The BBC reported that after surveying nearly 5,000 knowledge workers, only 12 percent want to return to full-time office work, and 72 percent want a hybrid-remote office model moving forward. The pandemic has changed how people work, but these changes have created opportunities and challenges for business leaders as well.
The news outlet said, “All of this change in our methods will go hand-in-hand with a change in our tools…Businesses that do it well will drive engagement, achieve organizational agility, maintain alignment and empower teamwork across all disciplines and locations. They will have a competitive advantage in this new era of work.”
The question of how to do it well is up for debate. The modern world has not experienced anything like COVID-19, nor all of its implications. For companies to survive and even thrive with a remote workforce, they need to build flexible networks to be able to pivot during unexpected times. SD-WAN as a service is just one technology rising in popularity during the pandemic because of the need to connect remote workers.
Traditional PBX phone systems that are tied to physical branch locations are no longer enough to support a dynamic and diverse application environment. WANs, while a significant step up from PBX, were not built to support all of the cloud applications businesses need now to enable a remote workforce.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the number of software applications used in large firms has increased by 68 percent over the past four years. The average company in 2018 relied on 129 apps. Smaller companies are not immune, utilizing an average of 73 applications. These numbers have likely only increased since workers have gone remote. While PBX and WANs can’t keep up, SD-WAN as a service can.
What Is SD-WAN as a Service?
SD-WAN enhances the capabilities of WAN to support more modern applications used in today’s business operations. It offers ease of deployment, central manageability and reduced costs. Network World says these capabilities can improve connectivity to branch offices and the cloud, giving remote workers more access than ever before. Organizations must be able to equip employees with technology that provides them with an uninterrupted way to share information and stay connected, even if they are working remote or traveling.
SD-WAN is not a completely separate technology compared with WAN. It is simply a virtual WAN architecture that leverages a centralized control function to direct traffic securely across the WAN. The SD-portion of the WAN (“software-defined”) is what provides the intelligence to instantly identify what type of data or voice is being transmitted across the WAN network so it can automatically route the traffic in the most efficient and secure way.
With enhanced capabilities, users get faster and more reliable connectivity across a variety of channels, and the company can keep remote employees connected and productive at a lower cost. The system is capable of handling any type of application, including on-premise, software-as-a-service, and public and private cloud applications. SD-WAN as a service helps organizations be more flexible with greater functionality, all while offsetting operational costs.
In the SD-WAN as a service model, a third-party provider hosts and provides the application to customers over a cloud network. Organizations pay for this service on a subscription basis, usually monthly. There is a benefit of paying only for functionality that is actually needed each month instead of having to pre-determine requirements once a year, for instance. With regards to COVID-19, organizations that were able to quickly pivot their network to support a remote workforce has been instrumental in their business continuity. Capacity and functionality is closely aligned with real-time demand, enabling costs to be better controlled.
As with any technology, however, technology upgrades are a regular requirement. These upgrades typically require technical expertise. Without it, organizations risk network downtime, an enemy of productivity. SD-WAN as a service makes these upgrades simple through the cloud. While a third-party provider provides the service and upgrades in the cloud, the organization is still responsible for monitoring, managing and changing the SD-WAN service.
For many organizations without technical expertise or staff to monitor the network, it makes more sense to have their SD-WAN managed by experienced providers instead of managing it in-house. Managed SD-WAN enables organizations to reap the benefits of SD-WAN without the hassles of managing it on their own.
A managed SD-WAN provider will take care of installation, as well handle the network and related applications on an ongoing basis. While there is a cost to this service, there is also a cost to hiring people with the required SD-WAN skill sets or allocating less skilled internal resources to manage the network instead of focusing on other tasks.
With COVID-19, businesses have had to become more resilient and revamp their business continuity plans. SD-WAN as a service ensures businesses can operate as close to “normal” as possible as they support remote employees with a flexible, dynamic and secure network. Employees who can work from anywhere on multiple devices will be more productive and engaged, strengthening the organization despite having a more dispersed workforce.