Today’s guest blog post comes from Daniel Mirkovic, Network Architect at HMSHost.

Digital Transformation has been a topic at the forefront of IT organizations in a wide range of industries. For HMSHost, a global food and beverage provider, the ability to provide services such as digital menu boards, pay-at-table tablets, self-service kiosks and mobile ordering to restaurants at over 200 airports and travel plazas has been a critical driver in developing and modernizing our network infrastructure.

In order for these services to function with the reliability and availability expected by the traveling consumer, HMSHost needed to facilitate dramatic upgrades to its existing WAN. New cloud-based initiatives required several times the amount of bandwidth versus existing legacy systems to ensure uptime and proper functionality. The remote nature of many HMSHost locations meant that, often times, the only available terrestrial WAN circuits were T1 lines, while wireless WAN solutions such as LTE couldn’t be relied upon to be healthy enough to maintain connectivity across a traditional VPN.

Due to these constraints, we decided to deploy a private MPLS network dedicated for high-priority traffic such as point of sale and VoIP systems, and have less critical traffic use a separate Internet circuit. However, as new digital transformation initiatives continued to presented themselves, the load on the Internet circuits kept on rising. This was particularly apparent with third-party integration efforts, where much of the traffic was destined for public cloud providers such as AWS and would be offloaded directly to the sites’ local internet circuits. Meanwhile, the load on the MPLS network remained relatively static, frequently utilizing only a small fraction of totally available bandwidth under normal conditions.

For the last five years, as part of alleviating the particular WAN challenges that HMSHost faced, we have partnered with Citrix to bring their WAN Optimization platform to our remote locations. The solution proved to be an integral part of the HMSHost network, providing over 80% reduction in PoS traffic and 60% reduction in file share traffic. This existing Citrix relationship made us a prime candidate for transitioning our existing Citrix environment to SD-WAN, bundling in the existing WAN Optimization functionality with a new solution that would allow us to utilize as much of our limited bandwidth as possible. It also would bring an unprecedented level of control and visibility into the individual traffic flows traversing the network.

During the SD-WAN pilot process, the benefits of the technology were so readily apparent that HMSHost pushed to deploy to all of its US locations in just two months. Because of the product support for a wide variety of underlay networks, we were able to seamlessly integrate it into our existing routing protocol environment. In fact, despite the aggressive timeline for deployment, sites experienced almost zero downtime or operational impact from installation.

After deployment, not only were we able to see consistent utilization of traffic across all available circuits, but also the system also provided unprecedented capability to monitor and track circuit health and utilization, both in real time and historically. By deploying NetScaler SD-WAN Center in conjunction with the rest of the new infrastructure, we were immediately able to see detailed aggregate and per-circuit throughput. This quickly identified locations that were experiencing degradations or otherwise sub-optimal performance, something that has been particularly difficult to pinpoint in the past, especially on our non-MPLS connections. It became possible to either confirm or refute claims of WAN saturation and degradation, as SD-WAN Center saved months of this data in its historical record. Suddenly we had access to information that would allow us to easily judge whether or not a location could handle a new IT initiative based on its average and peak utilization compared to the application requirements.

SD-WAN’s ability to constantly monitor WAN circuits for health and throughput even opened up the possibility for deploying circuit types previously considered too unreliable, such as LTE. As opposed to traditional WAN solutions that would attempt to send traffic across LTE as long as enough traffic was coming through to maintain a basic VPN, SD-WAN could be tuned to utilize this connection only when the loss and latency was at an acceptable level. Further, the capability for SD-WAN to utilize specific WAN links only during periods of peak traffic and data usage tracking made it much easier to justify deployment of metered links in the environment. Our current LTE pilot with SD-WAN has proved to be very successful and has received much positive user feedback – a first-time experience for us with a cellular connection.

On top of all this, our ability to easily classify and prioritize specific applications or types of traffic has grown greatly with the deployment of SD-WAN. Traditional QoS required specific knowledge of the application traffic. It only worked over MPLS and required a significant effort to make changes. By comparison, the application-based rules on NetScaler SD-WAN have made it faster and easier to categorize and provision space on the WAN for practically any service. That’s whether it is internally hosted or on the cloud. Even with sites that are only able to run off of a couple of T1s, we have much more confidence that critical traffic will be prioritized appropriately and make it to its destination.

Looking back on it, the ease of integration of deployment of SD-WAN made its introduction into the environment painless. Its initial benefits are readily apparent. However, it is the plethora of advanced options for tuning, resource allocation and provisioning that will facilitate success with HMSHost’s current and future digital transformation initiatives. That’s really what will make Citrix our valued partner in the WAN for years to come.

Join us at Citrix Synergy to hear more!
Session: SYN142 – SD-WAN digital transformation in action
May 10, 2018 10:30 a.m. in the Anaheim Convention Center, Level 2, 207A