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How SD-WAN closes performance gap for business

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Riverbed Technology sub-Saharan Africa country manager WIMPIE VAN RENSBURG outlines how SD-WAN technology helps improve the performance of enterprise applications.

As an increasing number of organisations migrate to the cloud, the gap between the needs and expectations of the business and IT’s ability to deliver is growing. With apps, data and users scattered across branch offices and other remote locations, IT is struggling to deliver the application performance businesses need to remain productive. In fact, the Riverbed Global Application Performance Survey 2015 shows that while 98 per cent of executives believe that enterprise application performance is critical to achieving optimal business performance, 89 per cent say poor performance of enterprise applications negatively impacts their productivity on a regular basis.

So what is the cause of this performance gap and how can businesses close it? Chances are IT is wrestling with a complex, inflexible WAN – a wide area computer network, to interconnect their diverse application workloads to their distributed workforce. In fact, the WAN is likely the IT infrastructure’s weakest link, and it’s preventing it from meeting the dynamic demands of the modern enterprise.

Business is speeding up, and IT needs to keep pace. Organisations need SD-WAN (software-defined wide area networking), and here’s why.

Today’s network challenges

Driven by the rapid globalisation of the business world, the WAN is becoming more and more dispersed every day. Remote workers are scattered across the globe — in branch offices, construction sites and coffee shops, to name just a few — and they all demand flawless network performance to stay productive.

What’s more, end users are depending on an ever-expanding catalogue of applications, some of them cloud based. And if the apps don’t work, neither do your end users. Many of them are even adopting independent apps which are not explicitly approved by the organisation — a phenomenon called “shadow IT”– in order to get work done in a timely manner.

As a result, today’s networks are more unruly than ever. Businesses need a new day in networking, and they need it now. But why?

The trouble with traditional MPLS WANs

Old-school WANs are having a hard time meeting the demands of the modern business. A network based on MPLS links can be expensive but also time-consuming. Traditional MPLS networks rely on operation paradigms that were defined more than 15 years ago at a time were the pace of changes was a matter of months not a matter of days.

The trouble with hybrid WANs

Many organisation are today considering reducing the costs of MPLS based networks using more affordable Internet links to create a hybrid WAN. But in many cases, what you save in costs you sacrifice in security and control.

Moreover, a significant rise in encryption and cloud technologies can cut into network visibility, making it next to impossible to know when and where a performance problem is occurring.

All the while, the pressure is mounting on IT, and the business is expecting you to act at the drop of a hat:

  • They need you to deploy a new app that will totally change your traffic profile (and you need to maintain control), today
  • They need you to provision a new branch office on the other side of the world with the right apps and data, and make sure mission-critical apps are performing flawlessly for all users no matter what, today

The list goes on. But unfortunately, the state of your network has you handcuffed. And this is where SD-WAN comes in.

What SD-WAN can do for businesses

To put it simply, SD-WAN allows businesses to control their network from a single, easy-to-use, intuitive command centre. At its core, SD-WAN enables them to make on-the-fly adjustments to network performance and application delivery, in order to meet the businesses ever-changing needs.

By leveraging software-defined networking (SDN) principles, designed to make networks more flexible and agile, SD-WAN enables organisations to direct traffic and deploy network services across a WAN from a centralised location — without any mess or hassle. Instead of the old router-based model, which required IT managers to make intensive CLI-based code changes to routers, SD-WAN allows network services and policies to be assigned to different locations, users, and even apps — all with just a few clicks.

What’s more, an app-centric SD-WAN will automatically identify the applications in the organisation’s network and group them into logical categories based on business criticality, and even apply network-service policies to those categories based on built-in best practices.

These benefits offer IT a broad range of possibilities. Organisations can automatically route voice traffic to their highest-quality network paths. They can quickly segregate employee traffic from that of partners and customers. They can send recreational Internet traffic through the most rigorous firewalls. And more. And IT can do it all simply and centrally, without breaking a sweat.

All in all, SD-WAN makes networks more flexible and agile than ever, which, in turn, allows you to meet business needs efficiently and effectively.

* These issues will be explored at the Riberbed Force for Business event in Joihannesburg on 20 April. 

* For more information, and to register to attend the event, click here.

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How to predict the future

Forecasting the future is about people, not technology, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers on a visit to the HP Innovation Lab in Barcelona

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When HP chief technology officer Shane Wall talks about the world three decades from now, the trends to steers clear of technology. That’s startling, given that he is also global head of HP Labs, the advanced research group within the world’s leading PC and printer manufacturer.

The Labs play host to numerous futuristic technologies, from 3D printing to virtual reality, so one would expect its vision of the future to be all about the gadget. Instead, it’s all about the people who will use the gadgets of the future.

HP CTO, Shane Wall

“When we think long term, we try to look 15-20, even 30 years into the future,” he said during the HP Innovation Summit at the HP Innovation Lab outside Barcelona, Spain, last week. “The way we do it is that we don’t start with technology. In HP Labs we invent all manner of incredible things in basic areas like biology, physics, and 3D printing. Those give us an idea, but we’re careful not to extrapolate those into the future, because by extrapolating you miss disruption.

“Instead, we look at people. We’ve done this for a number of years, looking every year at what’s accelerating, what’s gone slower, what’s new. We call these megatrends, that look at humanity rather than technology.

“In 2019 we stood back and took a different look at humanity. Everyone does market segmentation, analysing who the customer is and how they buy things. Instead, we looked at economic segmentation, we looked at where the money is moving in the next 30 years. We conducted numerous interviews with economists.”

The key megatrends identified by HP for the next three decades revolve around rapid urbanisation, changing demographics, hyper-globalisation, and accelerated innovation.

Rapid urbanisation

“We’re changing where we live,” said Wall. “People are moving out of rural areas and densifying cities. Cities themselves are getting bigger. In 1991, there were 10 megacities – defined as urban areas with 10-million people or more. By 2013, there were 41, by 2030, there will be over 60. Those cities are changing the very nature of everything we do, from the nature of work to the manner of how we do product development.”

The challenge of how to get goods into cities and waste out of them, he said, will result in a much greater focus on sustainability and energy management.

“That is going to change our go-to-market approach. Currently, we focus on countries as markets. Now we are seeing how important cities are becoming. In Nigeria, you may care about all of humanity, but for sales, you care about Lagos. In China, by 2035 any tier 3 city’s gross domestic product will pass that of the entire country of Sweden.”

Changing demographics

The very nature of the population is changing, said Wall. The impact of the post-Word War 2 population boom, resulting in the American concept of “baby boomers”, has now evolved into the “silver spenders”, who are living longer thanks to healthcare advances. They expect technology to address solutions to their toughest problems.

“On the other end of the spectrum, we are seeing a whole new generation, Gen Z, a generation like we’ve never seen, very focused on experiences and values, less focused on purchasing. They are also driving a change in our behaviour as businesses in terms of go-to-market. Understanding them deeply shapes the very nature of the enterprise.”

Hyper globalisation

Wall points out that, because we live in a world that is hyper-connected, we expect things to move at speed of light, while at the same time we expect it to be local. This has given rise to the concept of “glocalisation”.

“It is the expectation that things be both global and local, thanks to connectivity and mobile phones. Startups in emerging markets growing at 20% a year. It will be not only ideas that will move at this speed, but in the near future physical goods will also move at that speed.”

Accelerated innovation

Finally, technology must, by its very nature, play a key role.

“Tech itself is moving faster; it’s not just a perception. It started with Moore’s Law and the doubling of capacity on a transistor every two years. That happened at a systems level, and eventually, it brought artificial intelligence and machine learning into being. The algorithms were invented 10-20-30 years ago, but because of scale we have seen that only now are they becoming usable.”

The impact

What does this mean for consumers and businesses? On the one hand, it represents massive opportunity. On the other, even greater challenges.

“Over the next 30 years we will see incredible economic expansion, where the number of haves with the ability to spend on products we sell is going to grow at an incredible rate. The number of have-nots will shrink. But in order to meet that economic growth, we will see a 16% shortage in skilled labour, which means we must drive higher levels of automation to reach that growth.”

A big question is: What can prevent it from happening? The answer is highly relevant to South Africa.

“The challenges lie in basic infrastructure, like roads, buildings, and airports, but one thing at the root of it all is energy. When we look into the future, energy will become the critical piece: how well, how fast, we can build it out to meet those needs. In many economies, it is not being built out in a sustainable way. We need to change the equation.”

One of the solutions lies in 3D printing.

“Products can be designed digitally anywhere, and you can transmit the design on a digital supply chain, perhaps using blockchain and security tech, to cities where they are printed or manufactured on demand using 3D printers. That’s digital manufacturing and it’s already happening in some places today.

“Imagine you go to Amazon, you find a product, you edit it, personalise it, make it yours, and at the push of a button it is printed at a local manufacturing facility and shows up at your door two days later. It’s estimated that we can save 25% of our energy using digital instead of traditional manufacturing. Manufacturing itself takes one-third of energy use the in the world, so it will have a big impact on the world of the future.”

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee



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Google launches open-source cloud for enterprises

Vendor lock-in is a thing of the past for Google Cloud users, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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A new way for enterprises to use cloud, that prevents lock-in, has been unveiled by Google at its Cloud Next event in San Francisco.

“Cloud Next is held in San Francisco, London, and Tokyo to cater for the various markets,” said Mich Atagana, head of communications for Google Africa. “The event aims to bring together cloud developers to showcase the latest cloud. You can think of it as the Google IO event for executives.”

At a round table, a team of Googlers broke it down for those of us who aren’t cloud developers. 

“There’s a lot of technicality in this event, and a lot of the magic could be lost on those who aren’t developers,” said Atagana. “That’s why we’ve assembled our Cloud team to demystify the technicality.”

Shai Morgan, head of Google Cloud Sub Saharan Africa, said: “Cloud Next started four years ago. The first one hosted 3600 attendees, while this year we hosted about 30,000. This shows the way Google moves across the industry and how we address businesses. We’ve seen large growth in our partner ecosystem. It used to be very niche players, and now it’s big players like Accenture and Deloitte using Google Cloud.”

Daniel Acton, regional tech lead for Cloud at Google, said: “We had a new CEO come in [for Google Cloud] and he said it’s all fair and well to talk about the benefits of the cloud, but it’s not always attainable for business.”

This is where Google comes in. It launched new products to assist businesses in customising the cloud, the transition to cloud platforms, and how much must remain on-premise.

First up is Anthos, a management system for hybrid environments.

Acton said: “Anthos addresses the journey to the cloud. Businesses know that this journey doesn’t happen at the snap of the fingers. Executives have to make carefully calculated decisions on how to get there. There’s also lots of friction to get to the cloud, with a big factor being cloud vendor lock-in.”

“One way to move a business to the cloud is through a ‘lift and shift’, which is simply moving all the components of the business off-premise and on the cloud. This isn’t always what a business needs. Anthos deals with “infrastructure modernisation”, which is how we go from what we got to what we need. That’s because not everything should be in the cloud. 

“We give businesses that option for hybrid infrastructure. Anthos exists to help customers on their journey to the cloud. We realise this is a multi-cloud environment and provide our customers on-premise, a bridge, and computation on the cloud, for example.”

Morgan expanded on this and said: “It’s a bridge to the cloud and a very well managed bridge at that. For an enterprise customer, it’s complicated to move assets, manage skillsets, all while thinking about lock-in to a cloud vendor. Open source in an enterprise environment prevents lock-in. We work very closely with existing vendors, walking with them in their cloud journey but they can leave at any time.

“Anthos can run on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. That’s the beauty of Open Source, no lock-in. Containerising is a method that’s popular in the cloud developer environment but moving these containers across these environments is not trivial currently. Anthos allows this to happen.”

This brings the second major feature: serverless computing.

Containers and serverless computing go hand-in-hand. Acton explained that containers are like pre-setup computers, where a developer doesn’t have to spend time setting up a virtual environment and can focus on writing code, which ultimately delivers business value. He compared the proliferation of containers to Java, with the “write once, run anyway” phrase.

Serverless computing is split into many levels. At a low level, the Google App Engine allows developers to write code, and it takes care of hosting and handling the load. This is similar to the AWS Lambda service.

The enterprise nature of Google Cloud is not exclusive to large enterprises. 

“We address very small businesses as we treat our consumers,” said Morgan “They most likely use Gmail, Drive, Docs, and Calendar because those products are free and very easy to handle. Setting up an enterprise cloud environment is quite complicated. 

“If one invests enough time and energy, one can start a business that adds value and has its computing backed by Google Cloud.”

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