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A McKinsey Global Survey from October 2020 found that companies sped up the digitisation of their internal operations by three to four years during the pandemic, while the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios accelerated by a staggering seven years. In fact, a phrase you are likely to bump into at every turn in the enterprise world is 'digital transformation'.

Gartner estimates that in 2021, businesses are likely to spend $4.1 trillion globally on IT, an increase of 8.4 per cent from 2020. The focus will be on technology that enables innovation, not just task completion. However, spending on new technologies is unlikely to take a business far unless it first digitally transforms the underlying layer that carries the bits and bytes — the network.

Enterprises are investing heavily in digitalising their operations, but an element that is often overlooked while creating a digital transformation plan is the company’s wide-area network (WAN), which connects various branches, outlets, employees, partners, and other stakeholders to each other, and to the main office. “The success of digital transformation is highly dependent on flexible, powerful and reliable connectivity services with a well-functioning network that provides access to the right applications and data at the right time,” says Oscar Garcia, Senior Vice President, Business Marketing, Etisalat.

The success of digital transformation is highly dependent on flexible, powerful and reliable connectivity services with a well-functioning network that provides access to the right applications and data at the right time.

- Oscar Garcia, Senior Vice President, Business Marketing, Etisalat

While traditional networks like Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) have proven to be reliable and highly scalable for decades, enterprises are now looking for solutions that offer optimisation of all network resources with enhanced visibility and control. As more employees are working remotely, using mobile devices and real-time conferencing applications, there’s a need for unification of networks that can combine different sources of data such as cloud applications, big data, AI, machine learning and Internet of Things.

Fortunately, filling the need of the new normal is the development that has drawn rave reviews for being flexible, scalable, agile and more secure—Managed Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN). Here, instead of complex hardware setups and dedicated lines, software controls the connectivity and access to the data centre, remote branches, and applications in the cloud.

Etisalat, a leading SD-WAN enabler, is currently implementing one of the largest SD-WAN overlay networks in Abu Dhabi for a healthcare services organisation. Also under implementation is a SD-WAN network for a large oil and gas company in the UAE, and another one for a global F&B chain. With multi-vendors, future-proof platforms and ability to integrate end-to-end complex solutions, its Managed SD-WAN is becoming the preferred choice for enterprises.

Here we look at how.

Rapid provisioning

Etisalat SD-WAN can be rapidly deployed across the organisation with limited touch of onsite technicians. Devices automatically download their initial configuration from Etisalat’s core network, eliminating the need for manual intervention. And for the initial setup required to switch an organisation to SD-WAN, Garcia says that the typical lead time from low-level design to implementation ranges from only two to a maximum of four weeks compared to a typical eight week timeframe for the connectivity and the CPE to be in place.

Scalability and flexibility

One of the biggest advantages of SD-WAN is that it is transport-independent. You can deploy it over an existing MPLS network, or over public internet, broadband connections provided by various ISPs, Ethernet, 4G and 5G. You can effortlessly add and remove connections as the business needs fluctuate. You can aggregate disparate networks into a cohesive one enabling ample redundancy — in case one network fails, you can easily route traffic through another network, without any downtime on the overlay network that is created.

Security

SD-WAN encrypts the data as it flows from one part of an organisation to another. It gives the flexibility to add more security features and customisations as per business requirements. The new Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) concept can secure cloud, branch network edges, and data centre to deliver a secure SD-WAN fabric across disparate connections. Etisalat leverages the capability of HelpAG — the cybersecurity arm of Etisalat Digital in order to provide joint, customisable solution for secure networks.

Optimised cost

SD-WAN allows an organisation to mix and match the available connection types to achieve the desired application performance. It optimizes costs by eliminating the need for expensive networking hardware at remote locations, instead provisioning connectivity and services from the cloud. “Today, the customer spends individually on the different types of WANs with different termination points,” explains Garcia. “With SD-WAN, single termination points can be used for multiple underlays, reducing operations cost not only in terms of cooling or power requirement, but in skilled manpower needed to manage those end points.”

Centralised management

Gone are the days when large organisations needed a small army of IT managers to maintain the company’s WAN across different locations. Etisalat Managed SD-WAN manages multiple sites from one console, even if they are dispersed all over the world. It can set policies from a central location — for example, ensure business critical applications get higher priority on the network, while less important applications are allocated lower priority. These rules can be further tweaked at a moment’s notice.

Network visibility and real-time analytics

The enhanced network visibility of Etisalat SD-WAN makes it easy to visualise and analyse what is happening in all corners of the network. Admins can interactively drill into the corresponding data to rapidly investigate patterns and anomalies and turn insights into immediate actions. Real-time SD-WAN data helps an organisation quickly respond to connectivity issues remote operations may be facing. With Etisalat’s comprehensive and interactive dashboard, admin can quickly update and publish policies to all affected devices, globally, with a single click.

Business growth and expansion

The beauty of SD-WAN is that it can be customised for every need and can be dynamically upgraded as the business grows. So, whether it is a global organisation that needs unified control, or a growing business aspiring to have many locations, Etisalat’s Service on Demand reduces complexity and delivers new levels of operational efficiency.

For more information, visit Etisalat.ae