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SD-WAN – A network for all cases


Image showing Sherif Rezkalla and his quote saying "SD-WAN acts as a key driver for networking and digitization"

Networks are the traffic arteries for companies and their business processes. In the course of the expansion of multimedia communication and the networking of all devices, they have a decisive influence on the pulse of digitalization. Modern enterprise networks are software-defined, can be quickly adapted to new requirements, and remain transparent and manageable. How SD-WAN helps companies master these challenges is explained by Sherif Rezkalla, responsible for Business Networks at Deutsche Telekom.

Mr. Rezkalla, communication networks were long considered basic equipment in companies, having little to do with strategy and business success. Why are networks experiencing a renaissance lately?

The keyword is digitization. Without a data highway, there can be no comprehensive digitization. The networks form the basis for this: they enable companies to achieve the growth in productivity that is possible in a digitized economy. We observe that the overall productivity of many countries is increasing with digitization. However, the degree of progress is heavily dependent on the quality of the network in the background. The network is the basis for smooth communication and interaction with customers, suppliers and business partners. Or for multimedia communication and the connection of devices in the Internet of Things (IoT), which is increasing all the time. This is also evident in collaboration within companies: Employees working together in a project team with collaboration solutions from the cloud can be distributed across the world in different locations. To overcome all these challenges, a modern network solution such as SD-WAN is increasingly crucial for economic success.

Have software-defined wide area networks already become established?

Indeed, an interesting development can be observed: Initially, SD-WAN was used as an overlay to existing networks, for example as a managed service for enterprise networks. Originally, the main aim was to reduce operational expenses and optimize bandwidth. In the meantime, more and more companies are recognizing that SD-WAN offers further benefits. For example, operations become more efficient and the network more stable if it can use redundant paths across different transport layers, such as the Internet, MPLS and 5G. Last but not least, the trend towards multicloud environments has also been a key driver for SD-WAN adoption, as has the combination of public and private cloud. Another key factor in the increasing adoption of SD-WAN is that more and more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are using the cloud for business workloads such as Office 365.

Does the Corona pandemic also play a role?

Quite, after all, the share of remote work, especially in the home office, has increased in almost all industries since then. There is no turning back here either: most companies and business units will use remote connectivity and multicloud connections in the future – applications that are predestined for the use of SD-WAN. Add to this the rapidly increasing use of networked devices. In this many-to-many IoT device environment, SD-WAN will ultimately become the primary means of managing connectivity and security. SD-WAN thus acts as a key driver for networking and digitization.

Where do you see further challenges for companies in network operation?

Those embarking on the journey to digitization must deal with new business requirements as well as new collaboration tools such as Unified Communication and Collaboration (UCC). Complexity is increasing, for example due to the already mentioned proliferation of multicloud and networked devices as well as remote working. Often, companies also have to work with tight budgets while managing the feat of optimizing operational costs and simultaneously coping with increasing business demands. In the process, business is getting faster and faster and response times to change are getting shorter and shorter – whether it's shifting workloads from one cloud to another, integrating new business partners, or even adopting new compliance regulations and rolling out the relevant policies across the enterprise. All these challenges speak for the use of SD-Networking technologies.

Are SD-WAN technologies secure enough? After all, cyber criminals don't sleep...

The need to optimize and secure connections in the face of rapidly increasing data volumes and the growth of networked IoT devices also places higher demands on the security of our networks. This security is provided, for example, by a SASE architecture, that is to say a cloud-based security concept for networks in which security is an integral component. So, Deutsche Telekom's SASE solutions have a powerful framework for integrating security into the existing SD-WAN portfolio. This enables companies to activate, control and, above all, secure the cloud connectivity of their application landscapes.

What does this mean for the future of network architecture?

The classic connection path from one point in the network to many points, comparable to the central/branch model, has long been outdated. We are now moving to a model that can be called multipoint-to-multipoint connectivity. It is a complex task to design and manage such a network that does not have the one central point of control and is also constantly changing. Without a software-defined development approach, this complexity cannot be managed – and without an AI-OPS model that supports monitoring, optimization and automation through artificial intelligence, the management and ongoing operation of such a network cannot be accomplished. Here, the data from the network provided by the various components and tools is analyzed with the help of artificial intelligence, or a so-called AI operational procedure. Users, in turn, will use networks more and more as a service in the future. For example, they will not have to set up a new connection for every business need, but will be able to apply the connection as a service from the cloud.

How is Deutsche Telekom adjusting to this development?

Deutsche Telekom addresses all aspects that determine the market. In this regard, we've got several competence centers around the world supporting our project teams who design and roll out both large and standardized as well as customer-specific solutions. We offer customers a software-defined SD-X platform, where SD-X stands for "software defined anything". This is complemented by fully automated end-to-end (E2E) processes and a self-service portal. In a first step, we are building the platform together with our partner Juniper Networks, who has a leading solution for SD-WAN technologies such as segment routing and a leading AI-OPS platform.

How do you intend to ensure that you can continue to respond appropriately to the increasing demands of your customers in the future?

In the future, we want to expand our platform together with additional vendors from our partner ecosystem. Our SD-X approach allows us to respond to any customer demand by strengthening the platform with innovative technology partners. In addition, our vision for the future includes a fully modularized approach that allows any type of overlay technology to be combined with any type of underlay access technology from a marketplace, entirely as required. Therefore, our SD-X platform must be able to deliver Internet, MPLS and 5G as an underlay to any overlay technology of the future. In short, we want to offer software-defined networks that are easy for our customers to implement and user-friendly – and that our service staff can quickly change and adapt. And we want to achieve visibility and "manageability" through AI-driven OPS.

And what can customers expect from SD-X?

SD-X is intended to be a marketplace where every customer has the freedom to select and combine their services in a digital shop with modular components. If customers want to add or adjust services and contracts, they use a self-service portal. In addition, every customer should have a transparent dashboard that shows their network in all details and contract components, so that they have a transparent overview at all times.

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