Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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SD-WAN and manufacturing: a match made in heaven?


November 19, 2019
By Jennifer Rideout


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NetworkingPhoto: © matejmo/Getty Images

SD-WAN has been heralded as the future of networking, a way for businesses to save money on traditional networking costs and add functionality without sacrificing the quality of their connection or employee productivity. Which is great, if you know what SD-WAN is and how it can benefit your business.

In this, my last column for Manufacturing AUTOMATION, let’s dig into SD-WAN and what it means for your manufacturing business. But first – let’s start at the beginning.

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is an acronym for Software-Defined networking in a Wide Area Network. SD-WAN simplifies the management and operation of a WAN by decoupling the networking hardware from its control mechanism. Put another way, it is a cloud-first, software-driven approach to networking that routes traffic, maintains application performance, and adapts to changing conditions – all without direct IT oversight.

How is SD-WAN different than traditional networking?

Traditional WAN design is based on multiple devices stacked in the branch office with siloed management and disparate WAN links connecting them. Put another way, traditional networks rely on physical switches and routers, connected to each other, housed in multiple locations.

They typically require backhauling all traffic – including that destined to the cloud – from branch offices to a hub or headquarters data centre where advanced security inspection services can be applied. The delay caused by backhaul impairs application performance, resulting in a poor user experience and lost productivity.

SD-WAN flips this concept on its side, providing a comprehensive solution that connects multiple clouds, allowing any user on the network to connect to any application, across any cloud, in near real-time.

Why SD-WAN for manufacturers?

Using the power of software-defined networking, businesses can improve performance and reduce costs, while staying secure. Because at its heart, SD-WAN is about helping businesses move more data faster and more securely.

And let’s face it: manufacturers are no strangers to excessive bandwidth demands. Most organizations have multiple locations and juggle hundreds of employees and customers – each producing valuable data, typically feeding back to one headquarters. Under traditional networks, an overabundance of this data on an unreliable connection could cause delays and slow down production, which could result in lost revenue. In fact, it’s estimated that 70 per cent of application outages are tied to networking problems.

At its heart, SD-WAN is about helping businesses move more data faster and more securely.

So in addition to providing a more flexible and versatile network solution, SD-WAN offers the opportunity to lower costs through centralized management, security, policy and visibility. The solution also supports business growth since bandwidth can be added as your network expands, whether you are adding a new satellite office or a new piece of equipment on the factory floor.

So everyone is deploying SD-WAN, right?

Even with so many advantages, many organizations are hesitant to adopt an SD-WAN network because of concerns that security can be compromised when using cloud solutions.

And to some extent, that’s true. Lack of unified, end-to-end security from the branch to multiple clouds does increase risks to organizations, and opening the enterprise to cloud expands the surface of vulnerability points. So providing the right level of network access to the right people at the right points in the network is truly critical.

If you’re still on the fence about adopting SD-WAN – or if you haven’t given it much thought yet – now is a good time to check out the many advantages the technology can bring to your manufacturing business.

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Jennifer Rideout is the manufacturing marketing manager for Cisco Canada. She is responsible for developing go-to-market strategies for the manufacturing sector in Canada, including channel alignment and content development.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

Note: This is Jennifer Rideout’s last column for Manufacturing AUTOMATION. MA thanks Jennifer for her digital insights over the past several years. Read all of her past columns.