SD-WAN and the New Normal of Manufacturing
Sep 21, 2020
For today’s manufacturers, top priorities include enabling the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Another imperative: streamlining the design, development and engineering process in order to speed time to market. Finally, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many operations are looking to accelerate the push towards highly automated “lights out” factories that operate with minimal human intervention.
Achieving these objectives is easier said than done. First off, manufacturers need flexible, secure, high-bandwidth connectivity to support integrated and open platforms that collect and analyze data from myriad sources. Many environments, however, are characterized by discrete silos of operations that can’t communicate or seamlessly share data. Network administrators, moreover, often lack visibility into resources, making it difficult to direct bandwidth where needed. In terms of security, the easy to deploy smart devices that power the IIoT also present limitless potential targets for hackers to infiltrate a system.
From a technology enablement perspective, Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) solutions offer the functionality manufacturers need to overcome the burden of outdated legacy technologies and, more importantly, drive measurable performance improvements. “While there is no silver bullet, technologies like SD-WAN offer tremendous promise for infrastructures of the future,” says Ram Ramasamy, Industry Director at research firm Frost & Sullivan. “Its ability to prioritize network traffic based on loads is a capability that would immensely benefit manufacturing. This alone could possibly drive availability by 2 percent to 3 percent, which in the industrial world is a pretty significant leap.”
Additional SD-WAN benefits include efficiencies around policy implementation, configuration changes, time to onboard new services and flexible provisioning. These are all essential to address growing demand to support billions of connected IoT devices. By providing visibility across the network, and by allowing administrators to prioritize applications, SD-WAN can segment network traffic to direct bandwidth resources on a customized basis. This makes it easier to monitor equipment, support video applications or link smart sensors to analytical platforms. By simplifying network management, moreover, segmentation provides an additional benefit of eliminating a layer of complexity from the overall operational environment.
From a before and after perspective, a traditional manufacturing plant’s network infrastructure is typically characterized by a lack of visibility and, relatedly, an inability to prioritize resources by application. Lengthy MPLS provisioning, backhauling internet traffic to the data center and bandwidth constraints all contribute to degraded performance and a poor user experience, while unsecured internet backup compromises quality.
An orchestrated SD-WAN solution with an additional layer of security, meanwhile, delivers full visibility and prioritization of applications, eliminates backhauling, speeds provisioning and lowers cost per Mbps. To take a more specific example, a rapidly growing – but financially constrained – global manufacturer was struggling with managing a far-flung WAN covering almost 100 sites across the globe. To cost-effectively manage this expansion, improving network capacity and performance was imperative. By deploying an SD-WAN routing and management solution, the company was able to centralize policy control to automatically optimize traffic and application performance. More specifically, the transition reduced MPLS bandwidth costs by an average of 64 percent per site, and drove annual net savings of nearly $450K.
Whether it’s reducing costs, enhancing daily operations or connecting billions of devices to enable IoT functionality, SD-WAN is a powerful technology enabler for today’s manufacturers.
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