For SD-WAN, success boils down to three simple words: Experience. Experience. Experience.

Guest article from Al Taylor, CTO and Co-Founder, cloudDNA

Cloud impacts almost every area of technology, but none more so than the networks that businesses rely on to access cloud applications and services. Last August, IDC projected that the market for software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technologies will hit $4.5 billion by 2022. Analysts at Dell’Oro Group forecast a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35%.

As longtime networking specialists, these numbers don’t surprise us at all. We know from years of real-world experience that customers can spend millions building the most advanced data centers in the world but far too often, not enough thought goes in to what happens when the data leaves the data center. Putting it simply, if the user’s network connectivity is bad, then the user experience will be bad and the project will be classed as a failure.

Back in 2015, when it was still referred to as vWAN, cloudDNA had the opportunity to attend Citrix SD-WAN technical ‘spearhead’ training alongside the Citrix UK Networking SE team. We instantly recognized that this was a credible alternative to the expensive, rigid MPLS circuits that have been effectively starving branch users of the bandwidth they need to be productive. SD-WAN delivers more bandwidth and resilience for a great user experience with significantly lower cost than traditional MPLS. We got the message early and it’s one of the reasons cloudDNA has become one of the most successful sellers of the solution.

In the years since, we’ve learned quite a lot about SD-WAN: where the solution really resonates, what businesses expect from it, where it can provide the greatest benefits to end users. Let’s take a closer look at the market for SD-WAN, the ways you can measure a successful deployment, and the areas where Citrix stands out from the crowd.

Scoping the SD-WAN opportunity

When we first started selling SD-WAN, we spent a lot of time developing targeted pitches for different types of businesses and vertical industries. If you’re starting that process yourself, I can save you some headaches: don’t bother. There is no specific industry, or even type of company best suited to SD-WAN.

The solution spans every vertical, from small businesses to global enterprises. If a company has users in a remote location, and they are consuming content and applications served to them remotely, then that company probably wants to deliver a great user experience at a reasonable cost. SD-WAN most definitely fits the bill.

Still, there are some companies that prioritize reliable, low-cost WAN connectivity more than others. When a customer’s primary revenue streams are generated from web properties, especially running in Azure or other public clouds, they simply must deliver a great user experience. If they don’t, they quickly start leaking users and revenues. A real-world example of that can be seen in the integration with Office 365 which I’ll come back to in a moment.

Where Citrix stands out

You could fairly accuse me of bias as a Citrix partner, but I’d argue there are good reasons for that bias. We’ve closely examined (and competed against) most of the SD-WAN solutions on the market. In deployment and after deployment, there are some key areas where Citrix stands head and shoulders above the competition.

  • Resiliency: For companies serving employees at branch locations, top of their priority list is a WAN that just works. If there is a problem with one physical circuit, the solution should fail over to another practically instantly—ideally without users even knowing something went wrong. Citrix SD-WAN is the most resilient solution on the market, with the industry’s fastest failover time.
  • Granular traffic prioritization: Citrix SD-WAN allows us to understand when people are using a particularly critical service or application and take extra steps to ensure a good experience. For example, for IP voice or video calls, we can duplicate packets across multiple networks and have them all race each other to the destination over different routes. This substantially reduces the risk of call quality degrading. 
  • On-ramp to Azure: Integration with third-party services is becoming an important differentiator. For many customers we work with, Citrix’s built-in on-ramp to Azure makes a big difference. If you think about Office 365, the traditional WAN model routes users back to a centralized data center connected to the cloud. Now, we can break out traffic at the branch and go straight to Azure. So, customers get lower latency (a better user experience) while eliminating all that cloud traffic that used to run between branch and data center (reduced costs). Microsoft has seen the value in optimizing the gap between the user and their services and has partnered with Citrix to help customers do it.

Putting yourself in the end user’s shoes

If I had to name the single biggest area where Citrix SD-WAN stands out, it’s the deep visibility it offers into the end-user experience—visibility that other solutions just don’t provide. Historically, we could look at network metrics, and they would tell us the network looked good or bad. But that’s not the same as understanding what the experience is actually like for end users. Being able to see things from that perspective is always helpful, but it’s absolutely essential for SD-WAN.

Many companies replace or add bandwidth to their expensive MPLS circuits with asynchronous consumer-grade links like ADSL, where the characteristics of the downstream link to the branch are not at all the same as those of the link back to the data center or cloud. If the tools you’re using to measure quality only look at one side of that equation, your metrics will diverge wildly from the experience branch users actually get. You need to be able to capture the full round-trip experience, and the vast majority of solutions don’t.

Citrix SD-WAN’s analytics capabilities go well beyond the nebulous idea of “network performance.” You can analyze the experience per location, application, or service to get a clear sense of what the experience is like for end users. That’s a huge value add that customers won’t get from many other vendors, and it will definitely help you win the proof-of-concept stage.

Those metrics can continue to deliver benefits after pilots become production solutions. We use them for troubleshooting and even proactively evaluating new applications or services. Do we have enough capacity at this branch to deliver voice over IP? How will that affect the user experience? Being able to understand what that means from a user perspective, rather than just a network perspective, is a critical differentiator that our customers find invaluable.

SD-WAN in action

The best way to understand the real value that SD-WAN delivers to customers is to look to at real-world examples. Recently, we’ve implemented SD-WAN solutions for:

  • A large manufacturer with a global supply chain: This customer is a parts supplier for huge global customers in the automotive, aeronautics, and electronics industries. They deliver more than 60 billion components per year, and their supply chain applications must function at all times. They have service-level agreements (SLAs) in place to guarantee components will be in the right place at the right time. But, because the company is so geographically dispersed, they often have issues with network performance, simply due to the inherent limitations of TCP over long distances. The vast majority of SD-WAN vendors will let you logically bond links together to increase bandwidth, but they can’t address that TCP issue. With Citrix, we can logically bond links, and then add WAN optimization features. That makes a huge difference to the end-user experience.
  • Financial services: We’re also using SD-WAN to support customers in finance and insurance. When these companies are relying on time-critical applications and real-time trading, poor or unpredictable network connectivity can directly affect profitability. Being able to provide these customers with a highly resilient solution that simultaneously addresses TCP inefficiencies for remote branches is a big deal.
  • Healthcare: We’re working with a National Health Service customer in Scotland, in a rural community using a public sector broadband network, with conditions that are often quite challenging. These remote clinical facilities need to be able to communicate with large hospitals in real time. They were having issues where a doctor getting ready to see a patient in surgery couldn’t access the patient’s records. With Citrix SD-WAN, we’ve introduced consumer broadband to add more capacity, as well as 4G backup services. Now, their critical infrastructure is much more resilient. And with more bandwidth, they’ve been able to bring even more network services to remote physicians and their patients. The Citrix proof-of-concept was so successful, they immediately piloted 20 more sites, with another 100 or so scheduled to follow.

It all boils down to experience

User experience is no longer something companies worry about after the fact. For network connectivity in particular, it’s become the key factor in determining the success or failure of a project. Of course, a focus on user experience is part of Citrix’s basic DNA. So, it’s only natural that Citrix SD-WAN gives you the industry’s most comprehensive capabilities to measure and optimize it.

If you want to solve your customers’ connectivity problems and give them great value for their SD-WAN investment, you’ll rarely go wrong zeroing in on the end-user experience. Fortunately, Citrix makes it easy to have those conversations. We love Citrix SD-WAN!

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