Will Retail Embrace SD-WAN?

The many benefits of SD-WAN have allowed this technology to become the darling of the wide area networking arena. Why wouldn’t businesses want reduced cost and increased performance from their WAN suppliers?

At no other time is history has retail needed technology to keep ahead of the competition. With increased costs of physical premise, reduced footfall and the overall trend for online shopping, physical stores need to use technology to work smarter to provide a unique customer experience.

Manufacturing and Healthcare with their requirement for high bandwidth and low latency are already embracing SD-WAN, so it seems its only inevitable that the Retail sector should quickly follow this trend.

Let’s take a moment to discuss the evolution of retail, what is SD-WAN, how can is help retail businesses, then review the Top 10 Benefits of SD-WAN for Retail.

The Evolution of Retail

The Internet of Things (IoT) is allowing innovative ways for brick-and-mortar stores to enhance overall customer experience. In-store staff can use handheld devices to provide customers with additional product information, check stock or perform on the spot payment transactions to reduce check-out queues.

Virtual Reality (VR) is another technology being introduced into stores for customers to lose themselves in a virtual world of products and services.

Applications such as these are all competing for a stores network bandwidth and let’s not forget that WAN services don’t come cheap.

Increasing bandwidth and reducing network delay is crucial for these real-time customer services. Of course reducing WAN service costs is also a priority.

Edge and fog computing are also enhancements that are becoming necessary to deliver such services quickly and efficiently.

What Actually is SD-WAN?

Software Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) uses centralised software intelligence to direct wide-area network traffic in a more efficient way for remote/branch sites.

Traffic can be prioritised and then directed over multiple MPLS or Internet facing WAN services such as Ethernet Fibre, Wave, 4G, 5G, xDSL and LTE.

Application performance is increased by ensuring specific application traffic is directed over the best WAN service based on its specific needs such as lowest latency or highest bandwidth available.

The end result is reduction in WAS service costs, plus an increase in WAN efficiency, user experience and overall productivity.

Is SD-WAN the Magic Bullet for the Retail Sector?

As we will be soon covering in the section ‘Top 10 Benefits of SD-WAN for Retail’, SD-WAN offers multiple benefits for retail, particularly surrounding WAN service performance and cost.

MPLS has been the preferred choice for a number of years. However the increasing move to cloud services means that SD-WAN is able to alter this landscape.

If your business intends to use manly cloud based services then ditching all of your more expensive MPLS WAN services and migrating to a multiple direct to internet SD-WAN solution can be ideal. SD-WAN is at hand to ensure excellent performance, resilience and considerable lower cost.

Before you contact your MPLS provider to tell them to take a running jump, there is an alternate future to consider.

MPLS & SD-WAN Hybrid Design

Cloud computing is in a state of change. Although the reliance on cloud computing will continue to grow year on year, the increasing amount of real-time data generated by IoT and user devices is not best suited to a centralised cloud design due to latency.

Edge and fog computing models have emerged to address this issue, by having the compute function located nearer to the data source. This will encourage a shift to cloud usage and design, and have a knock on effect on SD-WAN services also.

  1. MPLS providers have clocked onto SD-WAN and have begun to lower their prices.
  2. MPLS offers lower latency and greater performance compared to SD-WAN for any edge/fog services that reside on the MPLS providers platform itself.
  3. MPLS is a fully manged service with performance SLA’s. The internet does not.

For example, a site that has both MPLS and direct to internet WAN services can use SD-WAN ensure that low latency traffic is sent via the MPLS service to an edge/fog hosted by the MPLS provider. Standard cloud based services and internet traffic can traverse the cheaper direct to internet lines.

Top 10 Benefits of SD-WAN for Retail

Since we have now covered some background on SD-WAN, let’s take a more informed look at the top 10 benefits of SD-WAN for the retail sector.

1. Cost Savings

By aggregating multiple direct to Internet (DIA) lines for WAN connectivity, SD-WAN can reduce your overall cost for bandwidth. Both CapEx and OpEx can be reduced as SD-WAN requires less hardware.

2. Resilience

Additional resilience comes as part of the SD-WAN design. Not only can data services be prioritised or balances over particular WAN lines, but in the event of a line failure, data services can seamlessly reroute over remaining SD-WAN enabled lines.

3. Flexibility

The flexibility to quickly and easily prioritise and balance traffic over multiple WAN services to boost overall performance is key in any SD-WAN design. Additional MPLS or direct to internet WAN services can be easily added when needed, and decommissioned when no longer required.

4. Scalability

Bandwidth capacity can be quickly scaled up (or down) simply added additional direct to Internet broadband connectivity.

Connectivity from multiple WAN service types such as direct to Internet or private MPLS can be bonded together to from a single logical link

5. Simplicity

SD-WAN design can reduce the overall footprint of on-premise hardware required for WAN services to simplify each stores WAN solution.

6. Efficiency

SD-WAN has the ability to prioritise bandwidth intensive traffic such as video and high downloads, and allocate dedicated bandwidth to VoIP phone and POS systems to greatly increase the bandwidth efficiency of the retailers network.

7. Ease Of Provisioning

A new site can be provisioned quickly and easily using a combination of SD-WAN’s centralised management and configuration templates to ensure ‘right first time’ provisions.

8. Reduced Data Complexity

For many retail business, network complexity is an increasingly common problem. Stores are using a combination of local, edge and cloud based applications that are all competing for limited bandwidth.  

SD-WAN can monitor and alert on the performance of different types of data to ensure enough bandwidth is allocated and services that required lower latency take the most efficient path to their destination.

9. Centralised Management

The entire SD-WAN solution is managed through a centralised controller to reduce network complexity. From one singe management portal you or your managed service provider can provision new sites, flex-up bandwidth, upgrade software/firmware and alter traffic priority.

10. Security Features

SD-WAN security incorporates IPSec encryption that can enhance additional security features retailers may choose to implement. The centrally managed design means every device does not need it’s own local set of login credentials.

Conclusion

The benefits of SD-WAN for the retail sector certainly tick a number of boxes for any future WAN road-map.

Using centralised intelligent path selection decreases latency, increases bandwidth and provides overall cost reductions when compared to traditional WAN services.

Retail businesses are working smarter using a combination edge, fog and cloud computing to stay competitive. IoT and user devices are demanding more and more from WAN services.

The SD-WAN hybrid approach consisting of a combination of cheaper direct to Internet lines plus cost effective managed MPLS services is the solution we recommend to our customers.

This give you the best of both worlds.

Next Step

Please get in touch to discuss your future SD-WAN requirements in more detail.

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