Organisations are increasingly migrating to cloud-based applications. The growth in adoption of Office 365, for example, has been rapid with over 100 million active commercial customers world-wide since launch in 2011.
However, its performance comes with a set of challenges. Office 365 places heavy demands on the network as it requires increased bandwidth for synchronisation with Outlook, software updates, template downloads and other tasks. For many organisations, this adds up to a 500% increase in required bandwidth for Office 365. As a result, many international enterprises are experiencing poor application performance and end-user experience with the application suite. The knock-on effect is reduced productivity and frustrated employees.
This is putting the wide area network (WAN) centre stage and making it more mission-critical than ever.
If you operate internationally and require reliable and secure voice and data communications, chances are you will be using Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) across your WAN. In short, it is a method of ensuring packets of data get where they’re supposed to go – and that packets are prioritised appropriately.
However, businesses today are slowly realising that MPLS is a legacy technology that was not built for our cloud-centric times. MPLS is often seen as outdated, expensive, slow to deploy and unaffordable for smaller companies – and even smaller offices within large enterprises.
This is not surprising as MPLS became a mainstream technology back in the early 2000’s – pre i-Phones, collaboration tools and long before Office 365 was even launched. Back then, the Internet was not the media-rich medium that it is today. Mission-critical applications, such as Microsoft Office, were not in the cloud and users were not accessing corporate applications from mobile devices. MPLS was a good fit for yesterday’s challenges, but is showing its age.
MPLS is also expensive – especially for overseas connections. Therefore, organisations usually need to invest in separate WAN optimisation hardware to get the most out of the expensive bandwidth deployed at each site and managed by the IT team. This adds complexity and cost.
MPLS typically takes weeks, or in some remote international locations like China 3-6 months or more, to deploy. And that doesn’t even factor in the additional WAN optimisation hardware needed to conserve that expensive bandwidth.
What’s clear is that today’s knowledge-based, cloud-hungry, global enterprises need a solution that is quick to deploy and size, easy to manage and affordable. It needs to be designed to manage the nature of data traffic that is typical of many organisations today, not what was typical 10 years ago.
So, what’s an alternative?
Software Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) can simplify life for an international organisation, making it easier to rollout new branches in hours or a few days, anywhere in the world – and securely deliver a consistent set of WAN and IT services. New locations can be rolled out using whatever local IP connectivity options are available e.g. leased lines, fibre, ADSL or even 4G.
SD-WAN delivers MPLS-like services without requiring an actual MPLS deployment. But it is important to pay close attention to the global connectivity underlying the solution. In international deployments, for example, look for a provider has their own purpose-built global service network, that can optimise “middle-mile”. Also clarify which cloud applications come pre-integrated and the proximity of the cloud applications’ data centres. These are just a few considerations when assessing options to improve the end-user experience in today’s world, where nearly 50% of enterprise applications are accessed from the cloud.
SD-WAN isn’t a panacea for all networking ills, but it should be on any international organisation’s list to investigate further. The key message is: do the research and don’t assume all SD-WAN providers are the same.
Get it right and real-world improvements show the Office 365 application up to 5x faster, up to 95% reduction in Microsoft Exchange data and up to 40x faster response time for Sharepoint. This means IT budgets go further – and, more importantly, employees are happy and more productive.