The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light difficult lessons and challenges for many businesses:

  • Disaster Recovery (DR) strategies weren’t a good fit for the problems the pandemic brought
  • It highlighted dependencies on key personnel who might have taken ill or had to self-isolate
  • Some data centres closed access to customers whose infrastructure was hosted there
  • Businesses had to continue operations with staff working from home and reliant on sometimes inadequate ADSL connections

… to name just a few.

As countries and businesses begin to “live with” Covid-19, it’s time to focus on putting into action many of the lessons learned. There remains the risk of staff absence due to illness, and whilst there is no immediate threat of another lockdown, businesses have learned the need to plan for the unexpected. One thing we can absolutely guarantee is that the future will continue to deliver disruptive and unpredictable change.

[Digital transformation doesn’t need to be daunting. In fact, it can be achieved in small steps. If you’re looking to optimise your business operations, watch our ‘Worry-free IT with SD-WAN’ on-demand webinar to find out how.]

Surely, the cloud is the solution?

Unsurprisingly, one consequence of the pandemic has been an acceleration in the uptake of public cloud SaaS (Software as a Service) applications. This often accompanies plans to migrate workloads to public and/or private cloud environments. These cloud solutions can alleviate the worry of managing a complex infrastructure and providing the personnel to run it. Their model of “Pay as you use/Pay as you grow” will reduce many costs and enable operational flexibility, although it can be more expensive for businesses running processes 24/7.

Businesses must have the underlying network flexibility to migrate workloads as demand requires. Furthermore, this flexibility must allow organisations to retain user productivity and security when even staff in the office are still – effectively – working remotely. Any WAN strategy needs to deliver on performance, and on security. Factors applicable to the latter include: Zero-Trust Network Access (ZTNA); Secure Web Gateway (SWG); Data Leak Prevention (DLP); and Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) to apply specialized insight into SaaS applications.

We are also seeing an increased roll-out of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and technologies. Here, data processing often occurs at the edge, and only metadata is sent offsite, if any at all. However, there are cloud offerings to manage IoT devices, and to apply Big Data algorithms where relevant to the data collected. A key concern here is security: when devices are exposed to the internet to fulfil this data transfer, the inherent vulnerabilities of unsophisticated (and often unmanaged) IoT devices need to be accounted for.

So-called “clouds” are still based in physical data centres (somewhere) with physical vulnerabilities. However, not all applications work well with increased latency from traffic passing back and forth over long distances. Migrating applications to cloud-native and containerised formats is still the best way to optimise cloud, but this is far from simple and risk free. And not all businesses have software development teams capable of the necessary transformation. Therefore, deciding to move to the cloud is one thing: delivering it remains a challenge for many businesses.

Is the corporate data centre dead?

Corporate data centres are perhaps the first asset that need to be put under the microscope. Other than for the largest enterprises, data centres have restrictions on location, personnel, environment, DR (Disaster Recovery) capacity, infrastructure maintenance, etc. You’d need to be braver than I to choose that as your only infrastructure choice, but for many enterprises they remain an important asset.

At the top of any “pandemic lessons learned” list should be a tried-and-tested DR strategy, and honesty about how well you performed during the pandemic. Beyond previous concerns such as fire or flood, we now know there are other reasons a head office can become unavailable. Let’s add to the mix energy and supply-chain issues caused by war and civil disturbance, and the increasing sophistication of cyber-attacks.

During the height of the pandemic, many organisations struggled especially with running telephony-based customer services. When your business relies on staff being in the office to access resources siloed in a corporate data centre, how differently will you react next time? Next time there is an equivalent problem, customers are not going to accept an incapable service.

Solving the problem of delivering this with a hybrid workforce is something businesses will just have to manage. Public clouds may not be the answer: corporate data centres need to deliver the same level of resilience and redundancy. Connectivity is the key here, underpinned by robust security.

Decentralisation means “anywhere, anytime, anyplace”

Enterprises with multiple sites, whether in one country or globally, already have the greatest options for adopting a decentralised business model. Workloads are distributed and accessible from multiple independent locations. Can your business implement the same underlying strategy on a smaller scale?

Many enterprises are adopting “internet-first” strategies, migrating to SaaS applications and are additionally looking to empower their branch and remote sites. This enables them to carry on their business without dependency on central office infrastructure and communication channels. Still, local IT skills may be limited; the reliability of connectivity uncertain; the expense of connecting every site daunting. Internet breakout at every location — surely a security headache?

How does it all work together?

This is where we believe SD-WAN becomes an essential tool in your IT armoury. It enables you to not just hedge your bets, but to really optimise your business operations, wherever they are located. How?

  • Workloads can be migrated quickly between locations without delays for network teams to make complex manual changes across multiple devices.
  • A cloud-based portal permits multi-site next-generation firewall management. It uses business-friendly intent-based rulesets, removes the requirement for skilled on-site staff at every location and enables scale across multiple locations, globally.
  • Real-time visibility via rich performance metrics and analytics of who is on your network and what they are doing.
  • Speedy on-boarding of new sites via Zero-Touch Provisioning. Connect the SD-WAN router to the internet, it “calls home”, downloads its configuration, reboots and is live within minutes.
  • Public cloud, or private cloud – or both! – can become just additional nodes on the SD-WAN interconnected mesh. Available for you to use, when you want.

Why Proact SD-WAN?

2nd Generation SD-WAN based on Juniper Networks technology enables reliable connectivity over what were once considered unreliable Internet circuits. Cheaper Internet technologies can be aggregated using advanced routing and data science to choose the best path at any moment over redundant circuits. This removes the cost and long-term contract headaches of multiple MPLS connections

The future will include also include wireless 5G, bringing about disruptive change to how businesses operate. Our solution puts you ahead of the game in this regard.

So, SD-WAN is the solution?

I’m going to say it… SD-WAN also isn’t the solution; however, it is an essential part of your overall strategy. It allows you to stay connected in an unpredictable world, wherever it suits your business to locate your data and workloads — and whenever it suits your business to migrate them elsewhere. It enables your solution, whichever one you choose.

Updated May 2022

Is SD-WAN right for your business? Watch our on-demand webinar ‘Worry-free IT with SD-WAN’ hosted by Damian Murphy and Scott Alexander, Cloud Solutions Business Development Director at Juniper Networks to find out more.

Damian Murphy

Group Product Manager, Networking

Find Damian on LinkedIn

The question of whether the network is ‘up’ is no longer enough. It’s time to ask whether your network is enabling your business to thrive. Improve network performance, simplify network management and enhance end-user experience with software-defined networking. 

As discussed in this article, staying connected in an unpredictable world is more important than ever. Proact’s SD-Connect networking package consists of software-defined WAN, LAN and WiFi solutions as well as a next-generation firewall.

SD-Connect enables improved network access with fewer overall interruptions and improved connectivity throughout your organisation – no matter how far apart employees may be from one another.