Hughes Europe explains why SD-WAN is suddenly so vital in the world of retail
In the current retail environment, the network has become strategically important in reshaping the in-store experience. This is in response to the rising demand among customers for a seamless integration of the online and in-store shopping experience with an added dose of increased convenience.
For retailers the challenge lays in identifying the right in-store technologies that will exceed customer expectations. Return on investment will come down to how reliable and consistent retailers can make these technologies in order to provide a seamless, pain-free experience for store visitors.
Not all of these technologies will necessarily be experienced directly by the customer, but they will still help to shape the customer experience. For example, solutions such a digital kiosks and electronic shelves will be experienced directly by customers while background technologies such as distance learning solutions will help retailers ensure they have an agile, well trained workforce across their entire estates, providing the best possible service to customers.
Whether customer facing or operating behind the scenes, these technologies will all rely on the retailer’s Wide Area Network (WAN) to provide the business with any value, enabling the seamless provision of applications from the cloud or the corporate data centre to the point of use.
By now, many retailers will be used to reading about how their existing networks will struggle to make the grade at branch level, and that SD-WAN is the best possible solution for them. Should retailers believe the hype? Let’s find out by exploring the benefits that SD-WAN will bring:
Retailers investing in bandwidth hungry applications will have to ensure there is plenty of bandwidth for each application to operate smoothly without network latency occurring through applications competing for bandwidth. SD-WAN provides smarter management principles designed to alleviate this.
This is best understood by imagining data moving across the network as traffic travelling on a motorway. Like a motorway, the network becomes congested at peak hours, therefore it makes sense to switch the flow of traffic in the middle lanes, creating more lanes on the 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. It can even prioritise traffic from critical applications and divert that traffic onto congestion free routes created for priority traffic.
Typically, retailers relying on traditional WANs may not have sufficient security provision at a branch level to support a new cloud based application solution. This means there is minimal application of security protocols to traffic between the WAN and LAN, creating a requirement for a next generation firewall (NGFW) to handle key security functions.
SD-WAN shifts security control to the software plane, making it far easier and less resource intensive to deal with network security at a branch from a central location. Integrated tools make security management even easier. These include central policy management which increases scale and consistency and micro-segmentation of applications make it quicker and easier to react to cyber-attacks and breaches.
Backhaul penalties can quickly mount up for retailers running bandwidth hungry applications on traditional MPLS networks. Introducing a greater variety of such applications could add to the cost of operation. However, SD-WAN circumvents these high running costs with secure high-performance connections made available through the internet. In turn, this increases network reliability at a branch level.
It is clear then that by delivering dynamic routing, enhanced security at the branch level and cost efficiency, edge enabled SD-WAN offers a compelling solution for retailers striving to compete through digital transformation.