The Challenge of Connecting Beyond the Edge
Communications make it possible for businesses to do business. As long as they stay within the world’s core networks of fiber, cable and mobile, businesses generally find service they can depend on. When they have to extend their mission-critical applications beyond the core, however, doing business takes on major challenges.
Networks must provide committed information rates, high availability and reliable quality of service — even as they cross many different transmission paths from fiber and satellite to 4G/LTE and microwave. IT departments need to integrate third-party cloud services into networks never designed to support them. These demands test the limits of VSAT, the workhorse technology for remote communications, which ties up IT staff time, limits what end-users can do and introduces unacceptable failures.
The satellite industry is adapting by deploying a technology that has already proven successful in terrestrial communications: software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN). It creates a virtualized wide area network from the capacity of all the circuits available to it. Every few milliseconds, it checks the physical circuits for reliability, bandwidth, latency and other quality of service (QoS) factors. Circuits that don’t pass the test are labeled unavailable for that slice of time, and SD-WAN securely and automatically directs traffic to the highest quality remaining links, including failover circuits, to deliver better performance for applications and reduced costs for IT and telecom.
Users perceive a virtual LAN that offers speed, capacity and performance. Meanwhile, SD-WAN uses real-time data on traffic demand, circuit availability, latency and other QoS factors to optimize the flow of data and deliver that high performance.
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Challenges Driving the Development of SD-WAN
Until recently, the satellite industry has relied on manufacturer-specific VSAT platforms to manage the delivery of bandwidth to its customers. While these platforms provide more flexibility and control than legacy SCPC circuits, they still have three significant limitations:
Most VSAT platforms are proprietary, so modems and hubs are not interoperable. This means that switching or roaming between systems requires reconfiguration.
2. LIMITED THROUGHPUT
Each VSAT platform has inherent throughput limitations. When a customer’s bandwidth requirements exceed these limits, service providers must “stack” multiple modems together and load-balance using standard routing protocols, making management more complicated. As loads change dynamically, they can run into the design limitations of individual hubs, and the standard solution to the problem is to pay for more bandwidth to handle peak loads, regardless of average usage.
3. SINGLE PURPOSE
VSAT modems generally only support satellite bandwidth. Leveraging disparate telecommunications technologies such as wireless and terrestrial links requires external routers and complex routing protocols that cannot respond quickly enough to dynamic changes across multiple circuits.
SD-WAN overcomes this challenge by virtualizing all capacity and handling the management of availability, bandwidth and latency automatically. SD-WAN’s virtual platform also makes it easy for customers to prioritize bandwidth allocation and content. End users can choose to transmit video streaming over fiber networks, for example, and fewer latency-sensitive business communications via satellite.
SD-WAN is also ideal for customers that are always on the move. Combined with systems that automate the physical switching between beams, bands and antennas, it delivers uninterrupted connectivity wherever customers roam.