An introduction to Meraki SD-WAN. Is it right for my business?
If you’re looking for an introduction to Meraki SD-WAN or wondering if SD-WAN is right for your business at all, we’re here to help. Learn about the benefits and disadvantages of this popular technology in this five-minute read so you can make the right choice for your organisation.
What is SD-WAN?
A Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) is a virtual WAN architecture that allows enterprises to leverage any combination of transport services—including MPLS, LTE and broadband internet services—to securely connect users to applications. This is advantageous because it allows you to direct that traffic and manage your loads from a central control point. This includes interactions with SaaS and IaaS providers and the result is better application performance, enriched UX, more productivity, less static cost, and improved business responsiveness.
The prior prevailing technology was MPLS which is a protocol for efficient network traffic flow between two or more locations. MPLS operates similarly to switches and routers, sitting between layers 2 and 3. It’s that technology that most organisations still use today. However increasingly we are finding it’s just not made for the internet habits of modern workers.
A modern SD-WAN constantly analyses and prioritises the traffic going through a network, delivering a clear view of everything that’s happening, tracking all the applications that are in use, as well as who is using them. This enables companies to make smarter decisions and respond more quickly. Even when new technology comes along, it embraces it without missing a beat. With this technology business can deliver an always-on connection that they can depend on; both when employees are working in the office and remotely.
What is Meraki SD-WAN?
According to Cisco, Meraki, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is a suite of features designed to allow the network to dynamically adjust to changing WAN conditions without the need for manual intervention by the network administrator. By providing granular control over how certain traffic types respond to changes in WAN availability and performance, SD-WAN can ensure optimal performance for critical applications and help to avoid disruptions of highly performance-sensitive traffic, such as VoIP. Meraki itself has a wider range of applications and inclusive techniques which we’ll dive into a bit deeper later. An experienced Meraki installation partner can help you decide what elements are right for you.
What are its benefits?
- Better performance – An SD-WAN knows what traffic is important for a business and it prioritises this. So, if you’re making calls over the network, it knows how to move those bits of data via the best route for less latency, packet loss and better call quality. The benefit of this is better performance from your business tools and hopefully more sales.
- High security – As we become more integrated with the web, there is an increased risk of cybercrime. That’s why you need the most secure setup possible. Meraki SD-WAN benefits from the overall cloud package features and power of Cisco. That means updates are delivered in real-time and can be rolled out from the central control application for faster protection from threats. Meraki has a wide range of security features baked in to ensure your data is protected.
- Simple to use – With everything (even security cameras) controlled from a single dashboard, Meraki helps simplify your digital transformation initiatives. By providing an easy-to-use interface, managing traffic priority automatically and monitoring with advanced logic; IT teams can feel less stress. This leads to fewer issues of burnout and a better staff retention rate overall.
- Move to cloud solutions – With direct access to the cloud for all branches, there’s no backhauled traffic. Everything goes through the data centre and your remote teams are accessing their cloud tools directly – no matter where they are. This is not only more secure, but it lets you keep an eye on the loads. And the state-of-the-art connection Meraki offers lets you use other business-critical applications that rely on a high-speed, always up connection.
- Cut overheads – By combining all your wireless connections, firewalls, and CCTV into one umbrella, you’re not paying for disparate technology. You’ll find it takes less worker input to manage the deployment and every day running of an SD-WAN system under the Meraki suite. And SD-WAN costs less on its own. According to the IDC, nearly one-quarter of respondents anticipate SD-WAN cost savings of 20-39%, but two-thirds of respondents expect to see more modest savings in the 5-19% range. So, regardless, there is a strong financial upside.
- Improve productivity – If it’s not fast, it’s broken. And your teams won’t sit around waiting for tools to load. If you want to reduce employee downtime and achieve peak team performance, then their connections need to work all of the time. SD-WAN can help you to achieve that 100% uptime target and the uptick in sales you’d expect from it.
- SASE future-ready – Implementing an SD-WAN architecture helps enterprises protect their investment in the network and prepare if they choose to move to a SASE architecture, the future for cloud-based, secure networking. MPLS technology can’t support that future because it requires inflexible physical links to provide network connectivity. As more businesses move to the cloud, and as more users work remotely and access data and applications from the cloud, MPLS connection costs will continue to increase as more expensive connections are required.
- Scale quickly – If you know that your business will need to scale quickly then your SD-WAN deployment can reflect this need for flexibility. This can be achieved by layering over an existing MPLS, using hub-and-spoke instead of full-mesh, launching with SDI-2030 appliances and high-availability designs or other high-agility environments. To find the best setup for your organisation, you’ll want to work with an expert SD-WAN deployment partner.
What are the disadvantages?
There are some disadvantages to SD-WAN – although many can be mitigated with the right deployment. This includes reduced on-site security measures which might be fixed by layering SD-WAN on top of MPLS. Interference or signal feedback may occur which can be reduced or eliminated by time-division multiplexing. And your staff simply may not take to the technology. This might require a few rounds of training or additional onboarding support. Your IT teams may not be used to the number of regular firmware updates that SD-WAN configurations need to maintain their security and features. This might cause technical issues if they are not installed on time. Lastly, all the units and connections are centralised in SD-WAN. As a result, having an SD-WAN always creates new errors. In some instances, small errors resulting from incorrect configuration can cause major errors.
For most organisations, the disadvantages of SD-WAN are minor and far outweighed by the potential upsides across cost savings, scalability, reliability and more.
What else can Meraki do?
Meraki isn’t just a cloud-based access point anymore. Now, this revolutionary technology is expanded. The Meraki suite now includes:
- The Meraki Dashboard is a full cloud management solution together with Systems Manager, an EMM over all these tools for unified control
- Outdoor and indoor access points that are managed through the cloud with Bluetooth Low Energy beaconing and high-end security features
- Switching, routing, remote access management, wireless and security through the MX line of cloud-based security appliances
- L2 and L3 switches that are cloud-enabled and stackable
- Integration with the Umbrella internet gateway for prevention from ransomware, malware, and other threats
How can Meraki help my business?
Meraki can help by getting your operation ready for the future. Very soon, desktop applications will be a thing of the past. All our work will be enabled by and managed from the cloud. And increasingly, we’re leaving the office behind. With an increased number of people remotely using business-critical, cloud-based applications required to carry out their work successfully, it may be time to consider building an SD-WAN.
If you’re thinking about scoping your first SD-WAN deployment, let our team support you. We have vast amounts of experience in guiding businesses through digital transformation. We can help you best position for the business environment of the future by making smart investments in technology now.