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Moving to the cloud? Make sure your network can handle it

Tech Trends · Oct 30, 2020

In the race to move apps from your data centre to the cloud, are you struggling with app performance and ultimately employee productivity? Adopting Software as a Service (SaaS) offers many benefits, including ease of scalability, regular app upgrades, reduced infrastructure costs and reduced IT support burdens.

But the shift to SaaS also poses challenges, especially for businesses with multiple regional offices or branch sites where users and applications compete for network access.

According to IDC’s 2019 survey of top Canadian executives, operating costs (64%) and employee productivity (61%) are top priorities for technology projects. With that in mind, it's no surprise there’s been a spike in SaaS apps like cloud-based video, VoIP and Unified Communications (also known as UCaaS). But the increased usage has left many businesses struggling to set up and maintain efficient systems. Most networks were not deployed to support the new demands of these off-site, cloud-based apps.

Why SaaS is a network game changer

Adjusting to more SaaS is not just a matter of increasing your bandwidth capacity. Crucially, the shift to SaaS has a significant impact on your network. Conventional networks were set up to facilitate apps housed on-site or in private data centres. SaaS changes where your apps live, how they’re accessed and how much control your IT team has over them.

If your network isn’t optimized for this fast-evolving cloud-based work environment, you are not using connectivity links or bandwidth efficiently. And that can mean a sub-optimal user experience. Dropped calls, jittery meetings and lost connections reduce productivity, frustrate workers, irritate customers and impact your bottom line. If this sounds all too familiar, it’s time to assess what’s going on.

The problem with the status quo network

Cloud services are in data centres that are typically accessed via the public internet. Notwithstanding the effect of centralized firewalls, the closer each of your branch offices or sites is to those data centres, the better your cloud services will perform. By comparison, private WAN topographies, such as Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS), generally share a single internet feed for an entire multi-site network, requiring all traffic to route through a central headquarters or data centre before reaching the internet. This MPLS “hub and spoke” setup can create several issues for IT professionals and employees:

  1. Latency and dropped connections: Bottlenecks may form as conventional routers pull traffic from all users – even traffic destined for the cloud – through one central data centre. This congestion can result in longer latency and jitter for bandwidth-sensitive applications. UCaaS is particularly vulnerable to performance interruptions.

  2. Policy challenges: To ensure the fewest interruptions to the most important work, IT teams need to optimize the performance of and connectivity to SaaS-based application platforms. They must develop Quality of Service (QoS) or Quality of Experience (QoE) policies for each app to classify and prioritize traffic. Juggling existing MPLS and WAN connections for all your data centre apps and third-party SaaS is inefficient on your network and frustrating for users. A more streamlined approach is required.

  3. Security and control: Many IT departments are concerned about maintaining visibility and control of their growing suite of SaaS applications. Conventional switches and routers only communicate with nearby infrastructure. It’s nearly impossible to gain the complete view of the network you need for accurate monitoring and access control. Networks in distributed locations can be particularly complex to set up, connect to the hub, and secure.

  4. Lack of agility: It can be difficult to expand or reconfigure conventional network architectures. Scaling up may involve lengthy procurement and network provisioning processes, and a substantial capital investment. Adding new branch sites to existing networks can be an unnecessary headache.

In a cloud-based, SaaS-heavy environment, directing traffic using only a conventional WAN network is no longer enough. This is an opportunity to re-think and re-assess your network, and how to ready it for today’s cloud-first world.

SD-WAN: a digital transformation for your network

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is relatively new technology that many businesses are adopting to meet today’s network challenges. SD-WAN is an intelligent, cloud-first setup; think of it as a virtual, flexible WAN architecture for your network backbone.

Part of an overall streamlined networking solution, SD-WAN integrates with various connectivity underlays including managed and unmanaged high-speed internet, MPLS, and wireless LTE circuits. By allowing multiple underlays, SD-WAN supports high availability at all times, and is adaptable to your particular needs and setup at each given location. This integration means SD-WAN can offer the best of both worlds: direct access to the internet for SaaS-based applications; and secure corporate WAN or MPLS connections between branch offices.

SD-WAN uses smart routing to automatically determine link use while stabilizing and prioritizing traffic based on destination and your business requirements. Automating QoS and QoE results in improved performance of business critical applications to deliver a superior customer experience.

Innovative SD-WAN solutions, such as TELUS Network as a Service, have a central dashboard that lets you see your entire network at a glance, including all your sites and policies. SD-WAN allows you to copy existing policies to new sites, and update them all at once, ensuring consistency and efficiency. The central dashboard also gives you the agility to configure the network as you require, and apply different security settings for various types of network traffic. You’ll gain overall visibility into application performance, routing and usage.

In an optimized SD-WAN environment, next generation firewalls monitor for possible security threats, further improving network safety and resiliency. Also, to make connecting to the cloud easier and more secure, most cloud service providers offer SD-WAN termination options so that the cloud service (e.g. Cloud UC system, Amazon Web Service) can become a secured extension for your corporate branches. As leaders in the SD-WAN space, TELUS experts are well versed in security best practices and the latest threats—expertise you may not have in house.

Your network is the backbone that supports your business

In its 2019 Workplace Transformation Study, IDC Canada found that deploying a digital-ready network is probably the most critical element in an organization’s successful digital transformation. But less than one-third (31%) of Canadian businesses report that their IT, telecom, and network infrastructure is very prepared for change.

It’s clear the performance of your network affects nearly every aspect of your business. It’s also clear that conventional networks alone aren’t giving your team the performance they need to do their best work. You need to prepare for the next step of your technological evolution.

Your ideal network will not look like everyone else’s. A variety of SD-WAN options are available today, customizable to your needs, helping you meet the dynamic demands of the SaaS applications that support your workflow.

Find out more about how SD-WAN can instantly boost productivity and performance, and position yourself to take full advantage of the increasing use of SaaS in all facets of your organization.

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TELUS is a leader in the SD-WAN space. Learn more about our reliable, secure Network as a Service solutions, including:

Authored by:
Behdad Jamshidi