Hybrid workforce: is SD-WAN still relevant for UK businesses?

A fundamental change in the way that businesses operate means a rethink around networking and connectivity is essential. But is SD-WAN the catch-all solution that many hype it up to be?

It’s become increasingly clear that hybrid working models - where employees flexibly move between working from the office and working from home - is the long-term way forward for many office-based organisations. Research from Totum Partners has found that as many as 90% of companies within professional services are planning permanent changes to working policies.

As a result of this, businesses need similarly flexible approaches to connectivity that can help employees work productively and securely, whenever and wherever they work. At face value, SD-WAN seems like a compelling solution for achieving this - but is this still the case, are MPLS or SASE better alternatives, or should a combination of solutions be considered? This blog explores the options for businesses in the UK.

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SD-WAN in the UK: the lowdown

In a nutshell, SD-WAN is software that directs traffic over a Wide Area Network more intelligently, resulting in more reliable and better performing connectivity across the network. These benefits have led to strong take-up of SD-WAN around the world: according to an IBM survey, 55% of enterprises now have either SD-WAN or a hybrid WAN solution deployed.

There is a perception that one of the main business benefits of deploying SD-WAN is that significant cost savings can be made, but this isn’t necessarily the case for companies in the UK. Any potential savings on underlying bandwidth or connectivity tend to be negligible, in no small part because MPLS connectivity in the UK remains cheap, certainly in comparison to the United States.

However, there are benefits that can be found in cost of ownership, where network infrastructures can be deployed and managed in a much more cost-effective way. When SD-WAN is properly implemented, these cost benefits can be accompanied by scalability, consistency, standardisation and a significant improvement in security.

The relevance of SD-WAN in a hybrid working world

Security is of particular importance in the context of the post-pandemic world of work. A report from Security Magazine found that cyber-crime in the UK has risen by 31% over the course of the pandemic. It’s therefore critical that remote workers can connect to data, applications and their co-workers securely just as much as ensuring they can do so through a connection that is consistent and reliable.

Without this, the practicalities of hybrid working quickly fall by the wayside:

  • Employees can’t reliably collaborate with each other through Zoom or Microsoft Teams
  • Employees can’t depend upon connectivity to access systems when they need them, which slows their work down and consequently slows down the work of others
  • Employees revert to their own personal connectivity, with inherent risks around security and data protection
  • Employees feel frustrated at the barriers to remote working, end up working from the office more often, and feel disgruntled about doing so

SD-WAN can solve these issues by constantly assessing multiple connectivity options and choosing whichever is the best available at the time. This not only maximises the performance of the connection, but prevents an ‘all the eggs in one basket’ scenario of lost connectivity when one option is rendered unavailable.

But while SD-WAN can play a transformative role in connecting up flexible, distributed workforces, the limitations of the infrastructure that supports it must be taken into consideration, too. An SD-WAN deployment is pointless if excellent hardware and seamless software orchestration is let down by an underlying transport layer that can’t deliver the user experiences that employees expect.

In summary

The benefits of SD-WAN mirror many of the advantages that businesses are searching for in the post-pandemic world: choice, flexibility and agility. As organisations look for ways to reshape their working models to suit their employees, they can also look at SD-WAN as a way to support that work through similar variety in how they connect.

However, SD-WAN is not guaranteed to be a worthwhile endeavour for every business, and its deployment must be carefully planned out, especially in the context of the infrastructure that supports it. Nevertheless, those businesses that can get it right will be best-placed to thrive with their new-found flexibility.

Tiviti are experts in helping businesses like yours deploy SD-WAN in a way that fits their needs perfectly. Find out more about what we do and how we do it here.

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