Look for these important SD-WAN technology features to accommodate the still-evolving Wireless WAN era
Since entering the enterprise networking scene almost a decade ago, SD-WAN solutions have enabled organizations to simplify, automate, and scale wide area networks, even as the WAN grows in complexity. Evolving to meet multiple inflection points — from MPLS to broadband, data centers to the cloud, and in office to remote work — it’s a technology whose ability to adapt has been key to its longevity.
As organizations incorporate cellular connections to transition to a Wireless WAN (WWAN), what has traditionally been used as a failover solution for fixed locations is being adopted for primary and even secondary connectivity. This sea change represents yet another inflection point of SD-WAN for enterprise.
To fully realize the benefits of 5G and WWAN, organizations need an SD-WAN solution built from the ground up for the unique needs of cellular.
In-depth cellular insights
Administrators need the ability to easily view detailed information at any level of the network — from individual modems, devices, and vehicles, to offices, IoT devices, and service providers. While most SD-WAN solutions provide standard measurements of network connections, insights are often limited to generic performance metrics for all types of WAN connections, whether broadband, cellular or MPLS.
Traditionally, insights are generated by consistently sending out artificially generated traffic across various WAN connections to measure performance, latency, and loss. While the file size of each “ping” is admittedly a fraction of a drop in the bucket, when combined with dozens to thousands of connected devices, the artificial traffic can become expensive for organizations using cellular links on fixed data plans.
SD-WAN solutions that use in-line application traffic measurements for calculating performance preserve bandwidth and help avoid costly overages.
Another benefit of measuring in-line traffic is it allows granular visibility into most applications. Many solutions calculate the performance of cloud-based applications, but only with a virtualized SD-WAN appliance in the SaaS data center or public cloud. Using in-line traffic eliminates the need for virtualized appliances while enabling visibility and measurement into the performance of individual data centers within a SaaS application.
The ability to quickly access highly detailed insights and cellular-centric metrics enables administrators to quickly identify issues, provide support, and ensure top-notch quality of experience (QoE) for users. A cellular-optimized SD-WAN solution includes information relevant to cellular, including but not limited to:
- 5G and LTE coverage maps
- Cellular data usage
- Cellular health (including live stats at the device level)
- Steering traffic to a cellular provider
- Location tracking (real time)
- GeoFence alerting
Cellular-optimized Quality of Experience
SD-WAN solutions include essential tools that can, when used in concert, improve quality of experience. The optimization of QoE includes configuring quality of service (QoS) — the process by which network traffic is identified, labeled, and steered to the highest-performing WAN link — and creating application-based policies that prioritize business-critical applications. There are two important aspects of QoE that have considerable bearing on just how LTE- and 5G-friendly an SD-WAN solution is:
- Traffic markings (QoS) — To apply QoS, SD-WAN has traditionally utilized Differentiated Services Code Point (DSCP) markers to classify and manage network traffic over wired links, including MPLS, fiber, and broadband. Cellular, on the other hand employs different standards — with LTE and 5G using QoS Class Identifier (QCI) and 5G QoS Identifier (5QI) markers, respectively — which have to be accounted for.
- Traffic steering (QoE) considering cellular-centric attributes — SD-WAN solutions constantly measure the latency, loss, bandwidth, and jitter of WAN connections so mission-critical traffic can be routed to the highest-performing links. In a cellular world, however, there's no concept of fixed bandwidth, which constantly fluctuates based on signal strength and signal quality. These additional variables need to be factored in, especially as fleet vehicles and mobile devices are added to the WAN.
Application-centric traffic steering over Wireless WANs
Consider a 5G SD-WAN solution that makes it easy to create application-based policies that can steer traffic to any link, WAN interface, or cellular provider — factoring in signal strength, latency, jitter, and data usage. Utilizing mid- to high-band 5G network connections will ultimately enable SD-WAN capabilities that result in the highest QoE for each application.
Simplicity for scalability
Whether an organization has a large or lean IT team, when it comes time to scale the network, simple is better. SD-WAN must evolve to support fixed and temporary sites, vehicles, IoT, and remote workers; LTE and 5G connectivity; and enterprises’ transition from traditional networks to WWANs. Today, SD-WAN for enterprise requires 5G-optimized solutions that enable the flexibility and resiliency necessary for future growth.