Software defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) is a relatively new concept in Europe but retailers could and should be very interested in this technology.
With the network becoming increasingly strategic and companies struggling to find the skills and resource needed to deliver a network that supports more and more demanding commercial objectives, SD-WAN could well prove to be the answer. But with all the noise in the market on the subject, it can be difficult to work out what it really is and what benefits it can deliver.
The challenges of digital transformation are constant, especially for retailers striving to join up their online and offline channels, creating a seamless experience that meets the growing consumer demand for convenience. Robust and reliable network connectivity is essential to achieving this. Without an intelligent solution in place, the seamless omni-channel environment will remain a pipedream and world-class customer experiences will remain un-realised.
Providing a dispersed network that can support all manner of connected technologies across a retailer’s physical and digital estate – from headquarters to physical stores, warehouses and delivery hubs – requires security, resilience and flexibility. SD-WAN is a key player in enabling digital transformation and is proving essential to European retailers who want to maximise existing network infrastructure to take advantage of the retail revolution.
Sizing up the pain points
To truly appreciate the opportunities that SD-WAN can bring, retailers need to understand how it will help them overcome the pain points associated with delivering world class customer experiences through digital transformation without requiring them to increase current network provision.
The recent shift towards the adoption of cloud applications and services has significantly increased network demand, impacting both availability and speed. Factor in the consumer demand for free Wi-Fi in-store and it’s easy to see why networks are increasingly under strain. Fulfilling consumer expectations while ensuring all business-critical applications are functioning at full capacity has become a balancing act.
For retailers with hundreds of sites, sometimes dispersed across different countries and regions, this challenge increases significantly. Ensuring each individual site can function at optimal performance while providing the best possible customer experience is just half the challenge. The other half is ensuring those sites are constantly connected and networking effectively with head office or distribution centres. When factors such as remote sites and the varying quality of connectivity is brought into the equation, the challenge becomes even greater.
In the competitive retail environment, increasing the budget to overcome these pain points is another challenge in itself. With limited financial resource, retailers must find a cost-effective way to provide predictable availability to each individual site across their dispersed estates with the certainty that the quality of service across that network remains as high as possible. Retailers need to place their confidence in a solution that will maximise bandwidth and protect the quality of service across their estates without the requirement to invest in costly bandwidth upgrades.
What SD-WAN delivers
Designed to address these very pain points, SD-WAN offers management capabilities that deliver predictable application availability and guarantee a continual high quality of service.
SD-WAN manages network traffic dynamically and autonomously based on flow behaviour, eliminating the historically time-consuming process of manually configuring and maintaining rules to classify and prioritise specific applications at an individual site level. For example, business-critical applications such as payments and the flow of stock data back to headquarters are given priority over less critical applications.
Those applications deemed less critical aren’t simply abandoned until enough bandwidth becomes available but are instead provided with an alternative source of bandwidth so they are still delivered but slightly later. SD-WAN effectively provides smart, autonomous decision making on which applications use which source of bandwidth. The management capability of SD-WAN enables clear visibility of when all bandwidth is fully optimised making it much easier to assess whether additional bandwidth is really a requirement.
Given both the rise of cybercrime and GDPR coming into play, retailers should demand confidence in the security of their networks. The right SD-WAN solution provides this through unparalleled visibility of the applications present on the network and applies security protocols with cloud and local security measures creating a robust security policy across the entire dispersed network.
For dispersed retailers ready to prosper through digital transformation, SD-WAN is the solution that can help them deliver.
Vanessa Armstrong is the head of marketing at Hughes Europe, the leading provider of high-quality, resilient and cost-effective broadband networks along with employee and customer facing digital media solutions.