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Editor’s Question: What challenges do channel partners face when re-architecting traditional networks to be software-defined?

Editor’s Question: What challenges do channel partners face when re-architecting traditional networks to be software-defined?

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Software-defined networking (SDN) is an architecture that aims to make networks agile and flexible. The goal of SDN is to improve network control by enabling enterprises and service providers to respond quickly to changing business requirements. Industry pundits share insights on how channel partners can help their end user customers to move away from traditional network architectures.

Wesley van Rayne, Principal Engineer, Redvine

Given the ever-evolving IT industry in MEA, there are two avenues in which the channel operates. The ISPs who simply focus on selling links and putting SDN on top of that, and managed services providers (MSPs), who sell SDN as a solution.

The ISP model of selling links only, is a legacy way of thinking and significantly hinders the opportunity for channel growth, and rapidly eroding margins.

Fortunately, there has been an increase of MSPs in the channel who are more in favour of agility and selling SDN as a solution. These are the companies that will be successful and help drive the future of the channel towards a more software-centric way of unlocking business value for customers.

We see an important role for channel partners, and MSPs to educate businesses about what a software-defined network is, and to showcase the practical benefits of transitioning traditional networks to software-defined ones.

Of course, there are challenges when migrating from a hardware-first way of thinking to a software-defined one. These can include licensing and planning concerns as well as not having a full understanding of the existing organisational network environment.

Very few businesses have visibility of their traditional, hardware-driven network (adding) from an application services perspective. But once this holistic view is gained, then the foundation can be put in place for a modern, software-defined environment that is geared toward experienced based networking

That being the case, there are a growing number of vendors, who deliver SDN technologies. We work closely with VeloCloud, 128T (Juniper); Versa and some others and believe they are leading solutions across the continent (and globally).

That aside, there pitfalls that channel partners face when implementing SDN. If it is an ISP channel partner, then it is critical for them to overcome their legacy understanding of what it is to sell a solution. It is not about simply selling two links and a router and walking away. SDN in this instance, entails providing something that is best of breed to a customer, beyond connectivity, to include significant value adds in unlocking the potential of the network by tailoring it to the specific business needs of that customer.

It all comes down to the solutions that are available. SDN empowers the channel to tick many boxes from security and scalability to SD-WAN and SASE. This technology provides everything from a single partner, making it easier for a customer to manage from a business point of view.

In turn, customers can cherry pick from partners who are able to provide the most comprehensive solution. Therefore, the onus falls on the channel partner to identify the best vendors that will unlock this value proposition.

Traditionally, resellers used to be box-droppers or were completely focused on the underlying technology. But today, they must either focus on becoming an MSP that delivers solutions to companies in this new environment, or they must align themselves to one. Because SDN is so customisable, it can benefit any vertical.

Going forward, SDN will continue to be such a broad term with a myriad of use cases whether it comes from SD-WAN, SASE, or other areas. The key is for a company to align itself with a partner who understands the relevant trends in their sector as well as who has the experience of deploying solutions that cater for their specific use cases.

Navinder Singh, GM, In2IT Technologies

The world of work has fundamentally changed over the last two years, with Work From Home (WFH) now firmly entrenched as both normal and desirable. This shift away from the secure networks of a closed office environment, toward more open networking using various cloud services and public internet, has been something of a challenge. The software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) has seen increasingly widespread adoption to address this challenge, particularly with overlying technologies such as the secure access service edge (SASE). This is an opportunity for the next phase of growth of the multi-cloud, enabling more services to be easily accessed from the cloud and driving work from home (WFH) into the future.

The migration of legacy systems to next-generation technologies always poses a challenge, and in this case may require a significant amount of effort from channel partners. It can also be a costly exercise to migrate existing networks onto an SD-WAN infrastructure, because this new protocol uses virtualisation extensively, which may not be supported by existing infrastructure. This would then mean that the entire backbone would need to be overhauled.

It is also vital to have quality of service (QoS) enabled when migrating to a new network protocol, to ensure that priorities for network traffic are configured correctly. As SD-WAN is all software-driven, this last element is more critical than ever. In light of these challenges, it has become increasingly important to have the right IT partner on board to ensure that migration and transition is properly planned and can run smoothly.

Every business is unique, and their network requirements, particularly around performance and reliability, are no different – especially when it comes to facilitating a remote workforce. SD-WAN offers a next-generation solution to this challenge, enabling the use of multiple access technologies and multiple security protocols, to create an aggregated solution that meets the needs of any business.

SD-WAN simplifies networks by reducing the cost and complexity of infrastructure, improves speed at remote locations, and enables security policies to be consistently applied across the network. WAN services can be rolled out quickly and easily to remote sites for enhanced agility, with configurations to ensure business-critical traffic is given priority for improved performance. SD-WAN also facilitates the use of flexible Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) across the network or at specific sites as needed and improves security with a wide range of integrated security features to help prevent data loss and downtime.

In addition, SD-WAN lowers complexity, reducing the burden on IT by simplifying WAN infrastructure, and reduces cost by leveraging local internet access and providing direct cloud access. This in turn enables cloud to become further entrenched for greater WFH support, because cloud services no longer need to be routed through a central data centre. Ultimately, SD-WAN offers greater flexibility, visibility and control over networks while lowering costs.

The most important aspect of enabling WFH is security, which makes networks critical, and SD-WAN, with SASE on top of it, enables a plethora of ‘As-a-service’ offerings, including firewalls, security, privacy and more. It also forms a solid foundation for the implementation of Zero-Touch Networks (ZTN) which ensures enhanced security with identity and access management, while minimising the need for human intervention.

SD-WAN is effectively an umbrella technology, and a platform upon which a variety of next-generation services, including security and accessibility, can be built. This underlying technology enables the integration of cloud security applications into business networks, to facilitate WFH in a secure, agile, compliant and completely scalable manner.

As with any technology transition, having an experienced partner that understands both technology and business is instrumental. The ultimate goal of SD-WAN is to enable flexibility and easier management, which requires a well-planned and well executed migration. A trusted IT partner will ensure that the promise of SD-WAN, including cost savings, improved performance, enhanced reliability and increased cloud readiness, are actually delivered.

Amritesh Anand, Associate Vice President – Pre Sales, In2IT Technologies

A fresh era of networking has arrived, introducing the hybrid framework and the hybrid office while reviving the capabilities of software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN). So, what does this mean for channel partners and today’s business and why is everyone talking about SD-WAN when just the other day, like the mainframe, it was reported dead? This is because the pandemic changed everything by redefining the need for remote working. Many organisations have since adopted new hybrid models that deliver both remote work capabilities and office collaboration, with remote work proving an overwhelming success for both employees and employers, with the advantages of a hybrid work culture becoming clearly apparent in the past two years. Thanks to underlying technologies like SD-WAN and cloud adaptation, remote working has now become realistic for every organisation to plan and deploy. However, it is critical to ensure this planning is done properly, considering all the factors that must be addressed before and during any new network implementation for hybrid workspaces.

Many organisations have already planned and adapted to their new ways of working which are supported and enhanced through collaborative tools and remote application access. This makes it extremely important to ensure that enterprise networks are quality driven and capable of understanding, managing, and prioritising various types of networks and application traffic, depending on user requirements and communication type. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools are critical for operations and need to be accessed remotely and securely. More critical, however, is the requirement for security as the risk of cyber breach is higher when resources no longer ‘sit’ behind the organisation’s firewall when working remotely. With this in mind, channel partner must plan network elements to ensure that they are designed and implemented properly and it is SD-WAN that can meet this new way of working, bringing together advanced traffic engineering to provide policy-based performance with stringent security using zero trust architecture.

Since lockdown restrictions eased, many employees now split their time between working from home and in the office. To this end, the three key network infrastructure priorities for powering an effective hybrid workforce have become an SD-WAN driven network, a digital collaboration platform and a more flexible approach to security. A network infrastructure that is SD-WAN allows organisations to centrally deploy and manage branches and remote users, providing advanced traffic engineering for policy-based network traffic prioritisation that manages the changes and challenges of hybrid workforce network activity.

While speed and performance are important, security is the single most critical network infrastructure consideration today, given the rise of cybercrime and remote workers. As transactions move to the cloud and the Internet, networks have become highly distributed, creating additional attack surfaces. To counter this, most SD-WAN service providers operate from a Zero Trust security architecture which assumes that there is no inside network and that every user and device are not to be trusted by default. Every user access request and transaction must pass through strong authentication and authorisation processes defined using zero trust policies over the SD-WAN network. Here, SD-WAN based networking prioritises specific cloud-based collaboration tools to ensure users have a low-latency unified communications experience.

SD-WAN networking and multi-cloud environments are the dynamic technology duo that will enable organisations to leap ahead of the pack when it comes to the design and implementation of hybrid-capable, resilient networks.

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