Any retail IT professional who is not already investigating software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) likely soon will be. Enterprises that embrace SD-WAN enjoy greatly increased bandwidth at lower cost, up to 100% uptime, and centralized control across any number of remote locations. Those gains are driving rapid adoption; Gartner projects SD-WAN growth from today’s 5% market share to 25% within two years.
SD-WAN’s benefits are especially valuable to retailers with centralized operation of multiple stores, positioning SD-WAN to drive digital transformation going forward. How quickly that happens will depend largely on how SD-WAN fits in the retailers security envelope.
Critical Requirements for SD-WAN Security
Any network used to transmit credit card data must meet rigorous security requirements. One of the ways in which SD-WAN delivers its benefits is by supplementing existing connections with low-cost broadband, which means data transmission crosses the public internet as well as private networks. This in turn means that any retail SD-WAN solution must transmit encrypted data at all times over open public networks – unsecured credit card data must never be present at any point in the network.
In addition, access to network control capabilities must meet stringent guidelines, with security checks of infrastructure components performed on a regularly scheduled basis. All SD-WAN components that are involved in the delivery of the service – i.e., the portal, orchestrator, controller, CPE device, and gateways – must be evaluated for security vulnerabilities and the SD-WAN technology must integrate with other security capabilities such as hosted and/or premises firewalls.
Retail transformation powered by SD-WAN
While the digital transformation of retail is clearly underway, traditional networking approaches and technologies have limited the pace. MPLS networks with T1 connections were originally designed for the same kind of general-purpose connectivity any distributed enterprise needs. Those connections and the centralized firewalls that secure them have only so much capacity to apply to the multitude of digital initiatives retailers are pursuing today, let alone the more ambitious initiatives on retailers’ drawing boards. When we remove the barriers imposed by legacy networking approaches, so much more becomes possible.
With SD-WAN, multiple services and solutions can more easily interoperate with existing services and solutions, which in turn assists retailers in breaking down barriers between online and offline customer experiences. SD-WAN also separates control and data-forwarding, making it much easier to centrally configure and control store-level CPE with software hosted outside the store.
Unlike traditional WAN architectures, SD-WAN active/active configuration delivers up to 100% uptime. In addition to delivering a more satisfying digital customer experience, this helps to ensure business continuity and limit financial exposure from loss of sales due to downtime. If the SD-WAN solution supports application routing, that capability can further eliminate downtime while optimizing performance.
These are just some of the many advantages to be explored with SD-WAN. As an added bonus, SD-WAN can be incorporated into existing network infrastructure rather than requiring replacement – enabling preservation of investment in legacy hardware with continued depreciation.
Retail’s digital transformation has a healthy future
Retail leaders are understandably concerned about encroachment from online powerhouses, and are mounting effective campaigns to deliver the superior experience required to retain and grow customers. SD-WAN will prove exceedingly useful to those efforts. Regardless of the exact path a retailer opts to pursue, all roads point to increased unity of all channels through all phases of customer engagement.
In an increasingly digital world, that means advanced networking built around SD-WAN. As SD-WAN solutions integrate the security necessary to serve the retail industry, we can all count on a fantastic acceleration of the digital transformation already begun within the retail industry.
Mike Frane is Vice President for SD-WAN at Windstream Enterprise, with responsibility for the company’s overall SD-WAN strategy, as well as the network and security service portfolios. Since joining the organization in 2008, he’s overseen the launch and lifecycle of services including LTE wireless, Ethernet and MPLS IPsec access elements, Secure WiFi & Analytics, Application Performance Optimization, IPsec VPN and Unified Communications. Prior to Windstream’s acquisition of EarthLink, Mike led the launch of EarthLink’s SD-WAN service; their most successful product introduction in over a decade. Mike has a BS in Genetics and Cellular Biology from the University of Minnesota and was involved in gene therapy research at the Institute of Human Genetics before entering the telecommunications industry.