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Digital transformation and IoT are changing the scope and purpose of networks. That demands new technology. And, today, the network technology we’re excited about is Cisco Meraki with SD-WAN.
Changing network technologies can be daunting, especially if we’re talking about an old workhorse like MPLS. MPLS stands for Multi-Packet Label Switching, and, in certain respects, it was kind of a miracle when it was first introduced. It’s a technique for handling traffic that avoids two of the big problems with the public Internet.
The first is packet loss. Over the public Internet, you lose packets. That causes latency, which can cripple applications like voice. Have you ever been on an Internet call with an important client whose voice is sputtering like an old radio? MPLS can solve that with smart routing technology that eliminates the unreliability of the public Internet.
The second is security. MPLS is done over a private connection. Given that fact, it has an extremely high level of inherent security. However, it doesn’t have any built-in encryption, which means that its security isn’t flawless. Its security depends on its privacy. If malicious actors get direct access to the data by breaching the system, they can steal whatever data they want.
MPLS might be past its prime. The problem with having a private network is that you have to make a network—you have to have dedicated wires underground, which takes time and is expensive. This type of network is only offered by a few telecom companies, meaning market pressures haven’t driven the prices down, and you don’t have much choice in terms of the provider. If you’re an enterprise that needs to scale quickly and expand to new locations, MPLS can be painful.
But how can you move past MPLS without compromising performance or robustness? Well, quite easily, as it turns out, with Meraki SD-WAN, or Software-Defined Wide Area Network that’s built into Meraki hardware. Let’s discuss how it can do that.
The most important thing to know about SD-WAN is that it’s a technology that unifies many kinds of existing infrastructures. It provides centralized control over disparate elements, bundling multiple connection types, new and old hardware, and however many Internet providers you want. Out of a chaotic combination of elements, it creates an integrated network.
It provides reliability, usually an issue on the public Internet, with redundancy: the ability to run a network with multiple Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This means that if one ISP goes down, your network can automatically switch to the other one. No problem, no interruption in service.
Concerns about Quality of Service (QoS) for applications that are vulnerable to packet loss, like voice, can be addressed in multiple ways, like packet duplication, where the network sends additional copies of important packets, which can be retrieved if the originals are lost. Speed can be ensured for vital applications through priority routing. And, in terms of security, a high level of safety can be achieved with point-to-point VPNs and encryption.
The multifaceted nature of SD-WAN might make it sound complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Meraki hardware aims to make SD-WAN completely intuitive. The vast majority of your employees won’t have to understand the nitty-gritty of redundancy and packet duplication. It’s also designed for quick installation. This is completely different from MPLS, in which it was routine to wait weeks or months for installation if you wanted top-tier connectivity at your branch or office.
There’s an important question here, though, which is whether SD-WAN is ready for primetime. This is the question for any disruptive technology that aims to take over from an old workhorse like MPLS. The fact that MPLS isn’t fully dead yet, despite its costliness, means that the market hasn’t entirely placed its faith in SD-WAN. Not everyone is ready to replace all of their old hardware with Meraki boxes.
Really, there’s only one way to be sure of whether the fables being spun about software-defined networking are real: by seeing whether large firms can successfully adopt the shiny new solution in question. Like Cushman & Wakefield.
Cushman & Wakefield is no scrappy startup. It’s a century-old real estate business, which has acquired enough smaller firms that it’s now a titan. The downside is that this process left them with an inelegant patchwork of IT solutions. Visibility and centrality were huge issues—they had no easy way of remotely controlling and monitoring apps. That, combined with the costly nature of MPLS, meant they had to consider a Meraki SD-WAN solution.
Once they analyzed the potential of it, they realized they couldn’t afford to not adopt. Meraki’s SD-WAN proved much more sensible than MPLS, even when considering the costs of Asian countries where public Internet tends to be expensive. Setting it up was a complex process, given the scale, but after the initial outlay of implementation, Cushman & Wakefield experienced huge savings, speedier expansion, and a host of other benefits. And, whereas previously, with MPLS, IT couldn’t keep up with C&W’s growing network, that wasn’t the case with SD-WAN, because it became so easy to get new branches up and running.
This case proves that Meraki SD-WAN isn’t just an option for small companies with super-tight budgets. In fact, it’s even more beneficial for large enterprises that want to achieve agile growth. With Meraki SD-WAN, you can take connection quality for granted even in emerging markets where establishing MPLS would be hellishly difficult.
If you, like Cushman & Wakefield, are charmed by the possibilities of SD-WAN, you should know that adopting it can be easy. Especially with Meraki. You can have it running out of the box, but it also has plenty of room for optimization—there are large performance gains available to the Meraki customer willing to strive for the ideal configuration. Meraki and SD-WAN could change the way you do networking, giving you possibilities to fulfill your expansive ambitions without being restrained by the price of infrastructure.