After summarising why corporate users are moving from MPLS to SD-WAN networking, this post looks at how SD-WAN is being further enhanced by the advent of 5G.
Modern corporate enterprises – or even smaller-scale businesses – depend on secure, reliable, and increasingly high performance computing power to operate competitively, or even survive.
Equally, though, they need a communications and networking infrastructure that can cope with their constantly evolving and increasingly complex computer systems. This is especially true if the corporation has branch offices, or perhaps a growing work-from-home culture stimulated by the pandemic.
Each branch office will have many types of equipment, from staff computers to environmental management and security systems, connected to their internal LAN. The LAN connects to the corporate WAN through a WAN router or CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) to allow communication between sites.
Traffic has to be sent over the WAN, which typically relies at least in part on physical connections provided by a telecoms carrier, using suitable communications protocols. A long-established and popular approach has been to use multi-protocol label switching, or MPLS. Different protocols can be run within MPLS packets, while giving different applications appropriate priority, as traffic travels between sites.
SD-WAN as a solution to WAN complexity
However, as user expectations, hardware, connections and protocols proliferate, so does WAN complexity. Accordingly, the use of software defined technology to manage WANs is gaining momentum. Software-defined WANs (SD-WANs) take software-defined concepts, especially the decoupling of the control and data planes, and bring them to the WAN.
SD-WAN software monitors the performance of a mix of WAN connections—MPLS, dedicated circuits, the Internet, wireless and satellite—and chooses the most appropriate connection for each traffic type. So, teleconferencing might run over a dedicated circuit, but email might use the internet. SD-WAN software makes decisions based on how well each link is currently performing, the cost of each connection, and the needs of each application.
Traffic can be shaped to give time-sensitive applications such as VoIP a higher priority than other, less urgent traffic such as email, which in turn helps improve the overall WAN performance. This can be formalized into quality-of-service settings that define classes of traffic by the priority each class receives relative to others, the type of WAN connection that each traffic type will travel, and the bandwidth that each receives.
The rise of 5G – and its possibilities for SD-WAN
As SD-WAN evolves, so does 5G FWA wireless communications; in fact, the two technologies can be integrated into a truly synergistic relationship. By combining SD-WAN intelligence with the reach and flexibility of 5G, communications service providers (CSPs) can tap into new connectivity models across enterprise, Internet of Things (IoT), and even residential markets.
5G’s most obvious attraction is that, unlike 4G and LTE, its capacity, speed and performance enable it as a viable alternative to wired connections – especially when combined with the dynamic routing intelligence of SD-WAN. This means that branch offices in remote locations where network cables cannot easily be installed can use 5G wireless instead. Similarly, pop-up retail operations, sports events, building sites and other temporary locations that could not justify a cable installation in terms of cost or lead time can be rapidly connected using 5G FWA.
As well as its wider coverage, 5G FWA offers further benefits. SD-WANs with built in 5G FWA can be pre-provisioned and are almost guaranteed to come up connected on initial deployment. And, where cabled connections are also being used, the wireless links provide reliable channels for remote troubleshooting. They are not vulnerable to damage from third party digging activities, as buried cables are.
Yet the advantages of 5G over 4G/LTE extend to cost structure benefits as well as technically superior speed and performance. Providers cannot control 4G bandwidth in a way that makes service-level agreements and rate commitments practical. Nor can they offer “wired-like” billing plans — in which companies pay for capacity and not consumption — for fear of vastly overselling capacity.
4G WAN costs can also outweigh its benefits. With consumption-based pricing, IT cannot predict what the service will cost from one month to the next. Caps and rate limits apply as well, which make it harder to rely on performance levels.
However, 5G changes this model, as its architecture and infrastructure are purposely designed to let providers allocate bandwidth and meet specific service-level commitments. Once network slicing functionality becomes commonplace, 5G providers can easily deliver bandwidth with specific performance characteristics. They will also be able to put limits around consumption so no one can overconsume available capacity at the expense of those commitments. Additionally, providers can offer fixed-rate pricing, which will make WWAN far more attractive to enterprise CFOs.
SD-WAN and 5G – a two-way relationship
Yet, while 5G FWA offers these benefits to SD-WANs, we can also say that SD-WANs bring benefits to 5G installations, especially in complex environments with many types of devices and connections. The software-driven intelligence of SD-WANs is proving to be ideal for managing these environments.
Secure SD-WANs manage network traffic so that the applications that are most important to the organisation are prioritised to minimise downtime or interruptions. Traditional edge-based routers cannot cope with the connectivity complexity inherent in modern IT environments. Secure SD-WAN is designed to support and manage 5G connections and simplify networking complexity.
Because SD-WAN manages and prioritises traffic based on set rules, it can help organisations maximise 5G value by ensuring those applications requiring superfast speeds will perform according to expectations. Meanwhile, less bandwidth-hungry or critical applications can be directed to slower connectivity options because this will not negatively affect the user experience. Secure SD-WAN can also manage changing environments in real time, giving organisations the flexibility they need to make changes in their networks for optimised outcomes.
Another SD-WAN attraction is the ability to build in security from the ground up – instead of merely adding it as an afterthought, which exposes an organisation to risk. By contrast, a truly secure SD-WAN solution can support 5G speeds without interrupting business-critical communications or opening up security gaps.
Security needs to function fast enough to match 5G. Actively inspecting all traffic can slow down the performance of next-generation firewalls, so it is essential to choose a purpose-built solution that is designed to enable 5G performance and critical security functions together. It is not enough to rely on the native security features of 5G networking solutions; organisations must apply integrated, end-to-end security to protect themselves from the expanding threat landscape. By implementing a secure SD-WAN solution now, organisations can prepare for the new world that 5G is ushering in.
A source for practical, integrated solutions
Teldat is in a strong unique position to help users wishing to implement secure, integrated 5G FWA SD-WAN solutions; their product/service portfolio covers both technologies.The CNM SD-WAN Suite solution allows a gradual transition from traditional networking to full SD-WAN, while their hardware products such as M8Smart-5G SD-WAN edge have 5G built in.