Tech Comment: The Case for SD-WANs

Atchison Fraser from Talari looks at how a new generation of software-defined wide area networking technology  (SD-WANs) is changing the way law firms communicate
Legal services firms often have multiple branch-office locations to provide local services to their clients. Because of this distributed nature of the business, network connectivity to access remote networks and applications is a critical factor in keeping the business running smoothly and successfully.
Law firm professionals rely on critical business applications such as case management to schedule calendars, track case notes and manage client documents and records. Without a reliable Wide Area Network (WAN), lawyers and administrative staff will lose access to their applications and data, or the applications will run slowly, leaving users frustrated and unproductive. And as the legal sector increasingly migrates to the cloud and SaaS (Software as a Service), the need for reliable, fast and secure WAN infrastructures becomes even more critical.
Traditionally, dedicated MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) circuits have often been used to support critical applications and services. Yet, many law firms are now looking for alternatives to achieve lower costs, simplify deployments for new offices and increase bandwidth – ideally without the expense, time and complexity of ripping out the existing MPLS network infrastructure.
That’s where SD-WANs come into the picture. Software-Defined Wide Area Networks are an extension of software-defined networking (SDN) that decouples the network configuration from individual wide-area networks, links and hardware components. Instead, SD-WANs utilise software and virtual network overlays to take advantage of available network connections, while centralising the control of and visibility into the entire WAN fabric.
With an SD-WAN, all circuits are active – including MPLS, the public internet and even 4G/5G and satellite – so WAN locations always have access to the full aggregated amount of bandwidth. An SD-WAN adapts in real time to bandwidth demand and actual network conditions, ensuring that critical applications always have priority and all applications take the best quality path through the network.
SD-WAN Solutions offer many “failsafe” benefits, cost savings and greater agility over single-provider MPLS networks, by aggregating multiple, diverse network links into a single, virtual WAN that continuously adapts to traffic, based on the availability and real-time quality of the network paths. This enables law firms to support greater traffic volumes and ensure that business-critical applications are not adversely affected by underlying network issues such as bandwidth, packet loss, latency and jitter.
With the ability to use all bandwidth across multiple links, it is possible to achieve up to 97% sustained utilisation on shared links without negatively impacting Quality of Experience (QoE). Furthermore, packet-by-packet inspection and packet replication mean that real-time traffic including VoIP, video conferencing and interactive desktop is maintained even in the case of a link failure or poor quality on an individual network service.
For example, if the Internet is performing well, it makes sense to use that low-cost path and conversely, applications that are not performance sensitive can be directed toward lower quality links. This means even when a circuit is not performing well, it is still giving value for money. SD-WAN failsafe management includes full visibility of network service quality, monitoring loss, latency and jitter across each WAN path in each direction with every packet, as well as bandwidth utilisation across each path.
SD-WANs can also make cloud-hosted applications run smoothly in spite of network quality issues or failures. Using packet-by-packet adaptive path networking intelligence facilitates the aggregation of multiple broadband links such as Amazon Direct Connect or Microsoft ExpressRoute connections, while traffic flows can be routed in real-time to avoid failures and poor-quality links.
Lawyers and support staff must always be able to access case management, time and expense tracking, enterprise applications and documents from their mobile devices and laptops, whether they are in the office or out. While there are many risks associated with working remotely, the reliability, security and performance of the WAN can’t be one of the risks. Just as network-security is a business imperative, so too is IT connectivity.
Editor’s Note: The Talari legal sector customers are not for publication however Insider sources say they do include Magic Circle firms.