Before business leaders allocate budget for an IT project, they’re typically a lot more interested in how that project benefits the business overall than they are in just reducing network bandwidth costs. There’s usually a lot of competition for budget dollars in a business so if IT leaders want budget dollars to be allocated to a new technology project, they need to be able to make a strong business case for SD-WAN.
When it comes to software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), the good news is that the business case is compelling. Here are few key examples:
Improved Business Agility: The fundamental equation of business is that time equals money. Business leaders quickly lose interest (pun not intended) in projects that take longer than 90 days, otherwise known as a financial quarter. That doesn’t mean that the entire IT project needs to be completed in that time span. But it does mean that some form of a tangible return needs to be manifested within that time. Rather than waiting weeks or even months for a carrier to make available a leased MPLS line to connect a new remote office, an SD-WAN provides a network overlay that can be set up using broadband internet connections in a matter of days.
Better still, the business doesn’t need to make any long-term commitments to a leased line if they don’t need the specialized characteristics that leased lines provide. A business can, for example, now easily take advantage of seasonal opportunities such as setting up a temporary retail outlet for the holiday shopping season or an office for tax preparers in the weeks leading up to April 15. Plus the savings generated by reducing the amount of IT time required to set up those offices and see the return on investment (ROI) is achieved a lot sooner.
Improved Employee Productivity: When all data is backhauled to a central data center, a lot more application latency is added, negatively impacting application performance. That may be acceptable when a user is remotely accessing an application hosted in that data center (often it is not). But when that application resides in the cloud, the performance of, for example, a Microsoft Office 365 application, can deteriorate. Suddenly end users become a lot less enthusiastic about making the transition to the cloud. Some more advanced SD-WAN solutions provide local cloud-breakout capabilities, allowing policy-based decisions on what traffic to backhaul to a centralized location for deeper inspection, and what traffic can go directly to the Internet with minimal risk (e.g. well-known applications like SalesForce, Office 365, Box.com, Dropbox, etc). In fact, a strong business case can be made for making an SD-WAN implementation a core element of any transition to cloud applications.
Business Continuity: Depending on a single network, connection to access applications creates a single point of failure. If there is packet loss or increased latency in the connection used to access the application, performance will suffer. Worse yet, if the connection fails, the remote office is offline. SD-WANs limit that risk by giving the remote office the ability to access applications across multiple services simultaneously including broadband Internet connections, with or without an MPLS leased line being active. There may be certain applications that need access to a corporate data center or need more detailed security inspection, and for these applications access may be blocked. But, at the very least, employees in that remote office will be able to continue working and get to common cloud applications. And in cases where SD-WANs provide the ability to run traffic over multiple connections (even over LTE), failure of an MPLS line does not impact business continuity since the SD-WAN can simply use available connections to reach corporate data centers and the Internet.
Increased IT Staff Productivity: The centralized management model used by most SD-WANs make them simpler to manage and easier to secure than traditional router-based WAN architectures. That means IT teams can manage a larger number of offices with less staff while employing a more consistent approach to compliance and security across multiple locations. Given the number of IT projects that are behind schedule inside any organization, freeing up IT staff to complete them is invaluable.
Network Abstraction Reduces Headaches: Because an SD-WAN provides an overlay across a physical networking infrastructure composed of multiple transport services, any disruption involving the network underlay is minimized at the application level. Instead of needing to be concerned about physical connectivity across multiple global locations that provide access to various types of networking topologies, SD-WANs enable IT organizations to manage those connections at a higher level of abstraction. This not only saves time and money but also increases application availability and reduces calls to the IT Help Desk.
The real challenge when it comes to building both a technical and business case for an IT project has more to do with internal organizational structure than the technology itself. Rob Enderle, principal analyst for Enderle Group, noted that most line of business units (LOB) are responsible for making the business case when it comes to IT projects. The trouble is that many executives don’t really have a firm handle on those benefits because they don’t regularly communicate with their IT staffs.
“What makes that worse is when the vendor tries to communicate to the line of business in the way only the IT organization understands,” said Enderle.
In the case of SD-WAN, some executives say too much attention is being paid to hard dollar calculations rather than what SD-WANs mean for the business.
Obviously, there’s nothing necessarily new about the divide that has historically existed between IT and the rest of the business. The good news is that business leaders are becoming more tech savvy as a new generation of business leaders starts to exercise more influence over IT budgets.
“It’s a generational thing,” said Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT. “It’s more likely that business leaders will understand the technology than vice versa.”
The real challenge now, of course, is making sure that everyone involved in the SD-WAN decision-making process really understands the multidimensional value of the investment being made.