Much has changed since software-defined wide area networks or SD-WAN was introduced. From being a novel but promising networking solution, it is now one of the most important technologies in the age of digitalization and interconnected devices. It has gained wider adoption, and it is encouraging to see it provide palpable benefits in a number of use cases.
One of the remarkable real-world examples of software-defined WAN’s benefits is in the field of education. The technology makes it possible to boost network agility and attain greater efficiency for the benefit of students as well as educators. Also, it is a boon to network security.
SD-WAN: An overview
Before examining its benefits, here’s a quick rundown of the nature of SD-WAN. The technology emerged several years ago, as networking publications started using the term to refer to a new technology that addresses the cost and complexity challenges of enterprise WANs. Network Computing, in particular, published a primer on software-defined WAN, describing it as a technology that can help automate the configuration of WAN edge routers.
SD-WAN reduces the complexity of configuring a hybrid WAN by dynamically routing and rerouting traffic based on the state of the network. The IT team only needs to set rules or predefined mechanisms for SD-WAN to find the most efficient handling of traffic. This results in a network that is not costly to operate and highly flexible, capable of automatically reacting to changing network conditions.
SD-WAN has an abstracted network architecture consisting of two separate parts: the control plane and the forwarding plane. The first enables centralized control, allowing the IT team to control WAN resources remotely. The forwarding plane is responsible for the management of traffic flows and is created to implement dynamic network resource configuration based on the policies established through the control plane.
Agility and security for K-12 district networks
EdTech Magazine recently published an article about SD-WAN’s network agility benefits for K-12 districts, pointing out that the technology helps schools manage their network bandwidth without the need to go through major infrastructure upgrades. Citing stats from a Consortium for School Networking survey, EdTech deduces that schools have become highly dependent on cloud bandwidth that it has become an issue. There is a need to address this, and software-defined WAN offers a suitable solution.
The use of digital tools, especially online learning platforms, is no longer an option, alternative, or supplement in modern learning. It is already regarded as an essential part of the education process. Unfortunately, many school districts do not have the ability to take full advantage of online learning solutions because of their limited access to larger broadband WAN connections and inability to properly scale their networks with usage growth.
K-12 networks need to expand seamlessly and handle increased bandwidth demand reliably. They should be able to support the addition of new technologies to afford students and teachers access to the latest and most advanced education technologies. These are not possible with the limitations of conventional networks.
The idea of using SD-WAN in K-12 networking is not exactly new. In 2020, a conference paper entitled “Next Generation of Network Reference Architecture in the K-12 Education Sector” proposed a framework for the improvement of K-12 computing networks. Aside from suggesting the addition of SD-WAN and the integration of LAN and WAN, the paper stresses the need for new security functions with respect to the new connectivity paradigm.
“The only way to ensure full protection against today’s web threats is to intercept all web bound traffic using a proxy-based SIG architecture. Protecting K-12 schools’ networks from inbound threats should be a top priority,” the paper writes. The proposed network architecture for K-12 districts is designed to support the high level of performance needed to undertake malware scans and the thorough inspection of all web traffic.
This high performance is attributable to SD-WAN’s position (at the edge). It dynamically adjusts to bandwidth requirements, ensuring optimum resource availability to meet changing demands while relegating traffic and security scrutiny to the cloud.
“Using the SIG (Secure Internet Gateway) architecture gives school boards the ability to effectively defend against today’s and emerging threats while leveraging the computing power, scalability, and availability of the cloud at a reasonable cost,” the paper notes in its conclusion.
Other benefits of SD-WAN in the field of education
Aside from the agility and security advantages, SD-WAN also provides the benefits of operational efficiency and resilience. It also plays a role in improving network quality in the interconnection among academic institutions.
SD-WAN optimizes WAN capacity with its support for dual connectivity, wherein public and private network services are combined. It ensures that networks are running at their optimum condition and significantly reduces instances of outages and data loss. K-12 districts can make the most of their bandwidth under this setup and reduce the instances of interruption typically encountered by students and teachers under conventional networks. Additionally, SD-WAN makes it easier for organizations to expand geographically by providing a unified policy and control dashboard for new and old locations.
On the other hand, SD-WAN enhances network resilience by enabling the creation of a hybrid network environment with various network connections to the same site. It provides the redundancy necessary to make sure that connections do not suffer significant disruptions. Connection interruptions are not completely avoidable, but they can be reduced significantly with software-defined WAN. Additionally, this technology provides the advantage of low latency. If network issues are encountered, traffic is routed accordingly to get around problems and ensure continuous availability. It also comes with link balancing, load sharing, and link failover functions to prevent downtimes in online instruction sessions.
Moreover, SD-WAN helps address network quality issues schools face even with new ISP technologies. Fiber optic internet services, for example, are widely touted for their speed advantages over older ISP services. However, it is not uncommon to see complaints about them being perceivably slower than their advertised speeds. Participants in conference calls and online classes may experience delays even when they’re supposedly having connections faster than 50mbps. This is usually due to latency issues, and it can be improved through SD-WAN.
Digitalization and cloud computing are already commonplace across various settings. However, there’s a difference between having access to digital and internet technologies and being able to use these tech solutions with their optimum performance. It is not enough to strive to become digital and connected online; it is also crucial to take advantage of the technologies that bring out the best in them.
The use of SD-WAN in K-12 computing networks is a step in the right direction towards a more mindful use of technologies to benefit more people. It shows that the best of modern technologies are not exclusive to enterprise applications.