SD-WAN as a tool for mergers and acquisitions (Reader Forum)
Your company has just acquired or agreed to merge with another firm. Exciting times are ahead, as your group is taking the lead in combining the IT functions. You have a lot to deal with, consolidating duplicate infrastructure and reconciling a multitude of applications, services, and IoT devices. What you do not need is long delays integrating the networks, waiting months for telco provisioning, or building complex VPNs with manual configurations.
If the acquisition target is a small firm with a single location and some servers, then configuring a VPN while you wait two or three months for an MPLS link may be enough. However, if you are trying to integrate two networks with many offices, cloud services, and devices, your problem grows exponentially. IoT devices, and all of the data they generate, are usually out at the edges of the network, putting additional stresses on any consolidation plan. You could try to simply bridge the networks across a pair of redundant links, but as inter-organization traffic grows, the bandwidth restrictions and latency impact become a significant problem. You want to migrate the IoT devices from both firms with minimal disruption and put the newly-combined organization on an equal footing quickly.
Step 1: Use Internet links and SD-WAN
The speed of business and connectedness of today makes waiting for the telco to provision expensive and complicated MPLS links a non-starter. A better option is to order high-speed Internet links for any sites that do not already have one. At this point, you could configure VPN tunnels for each site, but the ongoing management complexity will quickly become overwhelming, especially with the increasing amount of traffic coming from IoT devices, going to cloud services, and moving between branch locations. Running all of that through a central routing point will create an enormous network traffic jam.
Using software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), you can quickly turn this collection of new branch locations into a cohesive mesh network via Internet connections. SD-WAN is a modern technology that virtualizes networking, just like you use routinely with servers and storage. A graphical SD-WAN manager lets you discover, identify, and auto-configure mesh VPN tunnels for the entire network. Once the manager configures the basic network, you have a map or tabular view of every site and link and can make further adjustments to manage redundant links and prioritize applications. With more advanced SD-WAN managers you can also organize VLANs and WiFi access points at specific sites and integrate with cloud services. GHD, a professional services company that provides engineering, architectural, environmental, and construction services, recently merged with a firm that had more than 3,000 employees and 50 offices. GHD’s existing network architecture assumed larger branch offices and relied exclusively on MPLS and manual CLI configurations. Integrating without SD-WAN would have taken far too long and cost too much to deliver the desired growth and user benefits.
Step 2: Manage redundant links
When combining two organizations, you are inevitably going to end up with duplicates and redundancies. Legacy networking tools make this difficult, leaving links underutilized and sometimes creating network loops that take time to troubleshoot. With SD-WAN, traffic flows over multiple links in load-sharing mode or as a backup with a single configurator button, taking best advantage of available resources based on your rules. Mission-critical traffic, whether from business applications or IoT sensors, flows uninterrupted.
Step 3: Prioritize applications
Speaking of rules, you can optimize your network and prioritize traffic by application groups, web categories, or even by specific applications. Whether you are migrating the combined organization to a set of corporate-specified tools or supporting teams and departments with the applications of their choice, you can easily segregate and prioritize mission-critical apps from other, more mundane traffic. Most application traffic is identified within the SD-WAN tool and classified, meaning you just need to choose from a list of apps and traffic types included and regularly updated in the SD-WAN manager. Of course, you can also add your own definitions for custom applications. SD-WAN can intelligently route traffic over particular paths based on the application requirements. For example, designating VoIP traffic as high priority and defaulting it to an MPLS link with appropriate SLAs, when available, or creating inbound and outbound rules for specific groups or devices, from guest networks to IoT devices.
Step 4: Remotely configure sites
Armed with global visibility of the SD-WAN, you can configure and manage the entire network with zero-touch and zero-travel as the merger or acquisition progresses. When you ship new appliances to a branch office, non-technical employees can just plug them in for you and then they will autoconfigure. You can see everything connected to every port off every device and configure links for least privilege and maximum security. All configurations are stored centrally and, as you update equipment, the devices or appliances are auto-configured when they are connected and identified.
Step 5: Integrate with cloud services
Cloud-based infrastructure and applications provide a lot of flexibility for organizations that change quickly due to a merger or acquisition. However, configuring and securing the necessary links from each site can be a lengthy process, with serious risks due to security errors. Advanced SD-WANs are tightly integrated with the major cloud providers, and support single-click importing of virtual private clouds (VPCs) as sites and zones into your network map. Routes from all sites to the cloud contain the same security rules and filters, significantly reducing the risk of configuration errors or omissions and can be service chained to cloud access security brokers.
SD-WAN quickly connects two networks
With SD-WAN, integrating two or more networks due to a merger or acquisition is no longer a months-long process requiring a large team and extensive travel. You can create mesh networks quickly over existing or readily-available Internet links and then upgrade and modify them as needed. No longer bogged down by lengthy network configurations and troubleshooting, the IT team can focus on the many other important parts of integrating acquisitions and be part of delivering important business results.
Gayle Levin is director of solutions marketing at Riverbed Technologies. Previously, she held product marketing and campaign roles at VMware, Oracle, and Splunk as well as several startups. Her interests lie in the impact of technology on the way we think and work today.