Organisations striving to compete in today’s highly competitive retail environment are doing so through digital transformation. Today’s customers expect retailers to combine the convenience of online shopping with tangible in-store experiences and to facilitate this, retailers are exploring a wide range of in-store technologies.
From free Wi-Fi to digital signage, electronic shelf tags, digital kiosks and portable payment methods, in-store technologies are vital to retailers competing for space in the retail revolution. But it’s not only customer facing technologies that retailers are implementing to improve the customer experience. Across vast retail estates, workforces are becoming more agile through the provision of distance learning solutions which, like the customer facing technologies, can be rolled out from a central location.
These investments are driving up the dependence on the retailer’s Wide Area Network (WAN) to provide, reliable, seamless and satisfactory experiences. With many of these applications hungry for bandwidth, there is a rising requirement for WAN solutions that deliver scalability without reducing availability. Without such a solution, retailers will only experience increased network latency which can negatively impact business continuity and the customer experience.
Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) is the solution that retailers must consider if they are to compete in the retail environment that customers have come to expect. Here are the top benefits of SD-WAN for retailers ready to take the next step:
- Greater Agility
As business-critical and customer-facing applications compete for bandwidth, retailers are tasked with ensuring there is enough bandwidth available for each application to run reliably and smoothly. With SD-WAN, retailers can benefit from smarter management principles. If we imagine data travelling across the network like traffic on a motorway, it is easy to imagine issues likely to occur during peak hours. If motorway traffic is heavier in one direction in the mornings and heavier in the opposite direction in the evenings, it would make sense to switch the flow of traffic in the middle lanes, creating more lanes on the busy congested side of the motorway and a faster route for all who are travelling on it.
SD-WAN optimises the network to work in effectively the same way, finding more dynamic routes for all the data travelling across the network by prioritising traffic and sessions flowing across the network to make sure that critical applications take priority. SD-WAN dynamically assesses the best available routes based on link performance and application characteristics, directing traffic automatically across the most suitable routes. Critical applications aren’t left waiting in slip road queues behind less important traffic but are instead sent directly to their destination on a more efficient route.
- Increased Security
Traditional WANs tend to have an on-site router at the network’s edge meaning there is often no security provision within the router to ensure the retailer’s security protocols are applied to traffic moving between the WAN and LAN. Inevitably this can lead to the requirement for a next generation firewall (NGFW) to handle key security functions such as IDS/IPS, application control and antivirus/antimalware capabilities.
Increased reliance on direct internet access from the branch environment can mean the risk of a security issue emerging is heightened. We can easily see why cyber security has become a hot topic for organisations with the increased potential for data security breaches having a negative impact on brand loyalty.
SD-WAN is designed with security in mind. Both cloud enabled and edge enabled deployments will handle retail security needs in different ways with different vendors providing their own approaches to the way that security is managed.
Built-in tools make the job even easier. For example, central policy management increases scale and consistency while micro-segmentation of applications makes it quicker and easier to stop an attack from spreading. This makes dealing with the enhanced security required to operate in our cloud centric world much easier and less resource intensive.
Retailers that have traditionally relied on MPLS networks will be familiar with the backhaul penalties commonly experienced when running multiple high-performance applications over MPLS. With the current influx of high-performance applications on the network, those costs will only increase. SD-WAN overcomes this through increased high-performance connectivity, enabling retailers to run multiple high-performance applications reliably and cost-effectively.
With increased high performance connectivity, SD-WAN increases reliability for each branch in the retailer’s estate and this is of particular significance considering the implementation of new applications running at each branch and being centrally controlled.
By optimising their networks with SD-WAN, retailers can ensure their investments in digital transformation deliver returns through greater network agility, increased security and cost efficiency.