Industry Voices—Kerravala: How SD-WAN is transforming manufacturing operations

Shifting to SD-WAN must be part of every manufacturing organization's digital transformation plan, according to analyst Zeus Kerravala. (Pixabay)

The manufacturing industry is undergoing a transformation to becoming more digital. The Internet of Things (IoT) is making factories smarter, supply chains are becoming more agile, and key applications are moving to the cloud. With additional challenges created by COVID-19, more than ever manufacturing needs reliable, high-performance, secure networks to support remote sites and apps scattered globally across multiple clouds.

Manufacturers have unique connectivity requirements since they consist of geographically distributed locations like factories, warehouses and branch offices. Now manufacturers are dealing with changing network priorities due to the pandemic, having to scale quickly to meet increasing connectivity needs. At the same time, these organizations must manage their networks, monitor app performance, and ensure that users are connecting securely across numerous locations.

While the use of IoT and cloud has enabled manufacturing organizations to shift to increased agility and become more digital, it’s put tremendous stress on the wide area network (WAN). Switching from a legacy WAN to a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) can help manufacturers address the challenges associated with connectivity, application performance and security.

Traditional, fragmented WANs that many manufacturers rely on today are too rigid and brittle and aren’t cloud-ready. They're not designed to scale, and don’t have built-in resiliency for optimal app performance and uptime. SD-WAN, on the other hand, is cloud-ready and can connect thousands of remote sites or any number of users and do it quickly.

SD-WANs address connectivity problems in complex environments—such as warehouses with business-critical machinery and IoT devices—by simultaneously providing many connectivity options. Manufacturers with SD-WAN-enabled networks can link up sites using multiple connections from different providers and different types of transport, including long-term evolution (LTE), multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and broadband Internet.

Manufacturing networks also have distinct requirements for management and protection. SD-WAN networking hardware can be managed with a software-based controller hosted in the cloud, so network traffic is prioritized based on demand and monitored in a centralized location. Manufacturers can further boost network protection by positioning security close to branch locations using services like cloud-hosted security.

Although there are many SD-WAN solutions out there, manufacturers should look for a provider that has experience in manufacturing and can meet the industry’s unique network requirements. Aryaka is a provider that delivers fully integrated and managed SD-WAN services for manufacturing, which makes up approximately 40%  of its installed base.

When Aryaka surveyed manufacturing executives last October to gauge their motivation for migrating to SD-WAN, the majority said enabling remote workers was a key driver. The findings show a shift in priorities during these challenging times. SD-WAN is no longer viewed just as a MPLS replacement, but rather as an investment in more agile, scalable, robust networks that can reliably and securely connect remote users, sites, and apps.

With Aryaka’s managed SD-WAN, manufacturers that need fast provisioning can add sites to their network in less than three days. All sites are connected to the cloud over Aryaka’s low latency layer two-core network. The SD-WAN identifies and segments hundreds of software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps like Office365, Salesforce, and WebEx, as well as IoT traffic. It also provides network-optimization, secure remote access, and VPN-as-a-service (VPNaaS)—a key component for managing security and compliance in VPN environments.

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Aryaka recently expanded its portfolio with SmartSecure Private Access, a solution designed to tie together on-premises requirements with remote workers. Private Access uses a point-of-presence (POP)-based service architecture that allows flexibility between the two domains while enforcing common policies. When both branches and remote workers connect via POPs, manufacturers have greater visibility and control over reallocating resources. 

Aryaka hopes its approach will provide manufacturers with a seamless migration from branch-heavy security models to light-branch/heavy-cloud models, moving them closer toward secure access service edge (SASE). SASE combines elements of SD-WAN and network security into a single cloud-based service. While the technology is still new, manufacturers can start transitioning to SASE with a WAN transformation by retiring their legacy networks.

The manufacturing vertical is rapidly becoming modernized through digital technologies. However, manufacturers won’t be able to take full advantage of their digital initiatives until the WAN is also modernized as legacy networks will hold them back. Shifting to an SD-WAN must be part of every manufacturing organization's digital transformation plan.

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long-term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to end-user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers. He can be reached at [email protected], and follow him @zkerravala and on YouTube.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by Fierce staff. They do not represent the opinions of Fierce.