A significant source of ongoing operational costs for widely distributed enterprises is the expense associated with running branch operations. Whether it is bank branches, retail stores, government offices or insurance agencies, the costs associated with the branch network are a significant portion of the cost structure of the distributed enterprise. The advent of SDWAN changes this paradigm, with the savings extending to more than just the savings on network bandwidth.
The branch network is a critical asset, and usually, an outage in the branch network is a source of frustration for customers and staff, and possibly a loss of revenue from the affected locations.
The costs include more than just the cost of the actual wide area network (WAN), but extend to personnel support costs at the remote locations, to branch routers and other branch support equipment.
For the WAN costs, companies were previously forced between the choice of using a private network (leased lines, MPLS) or an IPSEC network over the public Internet. A private network, such as the one used to connect the sites depicted below, has an astronomical cost. An IPSEC network would have very high complexity and serviceability costs. Undertaking a network transformation based on SDWAN can help address the WAN costs, but how else can companies further reduce costs and increase reliability?
An emerging technical solution is the concept of the thin branch, supported by SDWAN provisioned over the public Internet, coupled with simplified on-premise equipment. The solution -
With the thin branch solution, the amount of equipment that goes into each of the locations is greatly reduced. The SDWAN device replaces the existing branch router, and is configured remotely from Head Office with Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP). The amount of network equipment and the level of expertise required at the remote location is significantly reduced.
With sufficient speed and resilience in the network, all branch IT equipment may also be removed over time, with the branch relying on connectivity to regional or head office for all support functions. File servers and routers, and even voice systems may be replaced with a reliable VOIP system running over SDWAN. The branch may also consume Internet-based services directly via local breakout.
The level of redundancy can be tailored to the criticality of the branch, with more critical branches potentially have 3 or more underlying transports, but a small sub–agency, for example, having just 1. The key here though is that the secure overlay network is presented to the branch in the same format, greatly reducing configuration complexity at the end points.
Visibility of the branch network is constant, and includes historical data so that if a branch reported a network issue after the event, real data is available to allow determination of root cause with the telecoms provider. There is complete visibility into current and historical network conditions. As multiple telecom providers may be used, the customer is free to choose which providers give the best service. The customer regains buying power with the telecoms provider that may have been lacking.
By removing all branch equipment, local IT support requirements are also removed, further reducing costs. IT skill requirements for branch staff is eliminated, which reduces training and branch operational documentation requirements.
In addition to the dramatic reduction in cost, the addition of an "always on" and performant network connection allows new possibilities, such as better real-time tracking of sales and collection of customer feedback.
It is worth noting that moving to a thin branch architecture can be evolutionary, with a gradual adoption at strategic locations, or revolutionary, with a wholesale rollout to a branch network of thousands of branches. The speed of adoption is up to you and your appetite for risk
Hararei are channel partners for Silver Peak, with their Unity Edge Connect® products, and have experience with branch operations at scale, often in challenging conditions. Contact Hararei for a free briefing and demonstration of the Silver Peak SDWAN solution for implementing a thin branch infrastructure.
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