How SD-WAN Transformed Operations in O&G, Retail, and Government

schedule 22 Aug 2019


So how exactly do software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) help enterprises with their networking challenges? We have delved into how it lowers the cost of operations, offers better scalability, visibility and network performance, while benefiting from easier management and improved security. Here we present different use cases to further showcase exactly how SD-WAN benefits three industries.

Case 1: Oil and Gas

Oil and gas companies are required to work in a variety of unfriendly environmental scenarios, often at isolated locations. It was no different for Saxon Energy Service. The company had a global footprint and limited resources to manage the entire company’s networking needs.

The challenge

The company wasn’t able to optimise network bandwidth, and this increased the cost of operation. It had a lack of IT resources and could not afford to send engineers to attend to every problem that cropped up. It also wasn’t able to remotely monitor and troubleshoot the network easily.

Operating remotely meant that it relied on satellite links for communication. These links were not only expensive, they came with a surplus charge of between US$10,000 and US$15,000 per month, per site, on extra bandwidth used beyond what had been allocated.

IT staff struggled to understand the kind of applications users were utilising on the network, and they had little control over how to allocate network resources optimally. This disrupted employees who had to urgently use the network to order supplies or report safety issues, which could take them up to three days. 

With only 20 IT staff to run the entire global network, the company was unable to maintain the network efficiently because it had poor visibility of what was happening within the network. Also, when networking equipment had problems, there was no way to push data over the network to reconfigure the network. Instead, the company had to send IT personnel to remote locations to fix the problem, which could take up to three days. 

How SD-WAN helped

For starters, the company was able to utilise bandwidth management and traffic shaping to eliminate the surplus charges on satellite links, which resulted in instant savings of up to US$15,000 per month, per site. Remote IT administrators were able to use the cloud-based management system to track exactly what kind of applications traversed the network and disabled rogue applications such as torrents. Besides this, IT administrators did not need to be onsite and were still able to automatically push relevant configurations from a cloud-based management platform, which saved them up to three days worth of man-hours.

Business Challenges  How SD-WAN helped
Expensive satellite surplus charges. Reduction in US$15,000 extra cost per user, per site.
Poor visibility of network parameters and metrics. Bandwidth optimisation and traffic shaping features identified and blocked rogue applications, helping to prioritise legitimate application use.
Inability to remotely configure and automatically propagate changes to the network. Cloud-based dashboard enabled remote configuration and minimised on-site personnel deployment, saving up to three man-days of work.
Case 2: Retail


A new trend called 'lean retail' leverages software and machine learning to analyse data collected from store patrons and tracks everything from consumer preferences to user behaviour. The goal is to help retailers adjust their merchandise, optimise stock, and eliminate wastage. China's Xingbianli is one such store.

The challenge

The company operates many applications deployed in over a dozen stores all over China. The company depended on a broadband connection for connectivity but couldn't prioritise the kinds of applications it wanted running over the network, which resulted in slow application response. Everything from online payments to in-store facial recognition system slowed down, turning customers away.

The company used public cloud services in conjunction with its private cloud. There was a need to ensure that the applications interacting between public and private clouds were secured and that its applications were protected from security breaches. The company also needed to scale branches up quickly with rapid setup times. And because it operated so many stores, it needed a holistic way to monitor the network and troubleshoot problems efficiently without many skilled people to do so.

How SD-WAN helped

To address poor application response times, the company deployed an SD-WAN with two main broadband lines at each location: one via fixed broadband and a backup using a 4G mobile line. These dual links gave it the ability to prioritise key applications and balance traffic load. Sensitive data such as payments and facial recognition data were routed whichever had higher bandwidth. The second link also provided backup should the first one go down. New links can also be added should the need arises.

Security is managed by integrating several tiers of firewalls, which are natively built into each branch appliance. This protected all branches, no matter where the data traversed. All traffic is encrypted while on the move and at rest, thereby enabling all cloud applications to be connected in a secure and seamless way.

The SD-WAN zero-touch provisioning feature enabled the company to set up three stores separated by vast geography in just a month – all carried out by non-technical personnel. All configurations, settings and feature updates were done automatically when the network connected to the network. Operations and maintenance personnel were able to identify failures in the branch links through a cloud-based dashboard and easily troubleshoot and maintain the system.

Business Challenges  How SD-WAN helped
High latency, poor application response time. Multiple broadband links provided higher bandwidth allocation. Traffic prioritisation ensured low latency and fast application response times.
Inability to manage security holistically in a hybrid cloud environment. Application segmentation, direct internet access to cloud and end-to-end encryption provided secure transactions.
Inability to rapidly expand branches; lack of expertise to setup network; poor network visibility for maintenance.  Zero-touch provisioning helped set up three branches in one month. Cloud-based dashboard enabled remote monitoring of stores and configuration of network.
Case 3: City Government


Internet connectivity is a given in many cities today, so it comes as no surprise that the city of Phuket undertook a project aimed at providing public Wi-Fi to locals and tourists.

The challenge

Providing city-wide Wi-Fi services in Phuket is not new. But previous networks suffered from inconsistent coverage and poor user experience. As a result, the city required the network to serve high-density areas, provide contiguous coverage without dropping out so that users will experience great service.

For IT people managing the network, the solution had to be cost-effective, requiring few engineers to operate the network. It also needed to be easy to deploy and manage. The network also needed to pay for itself by offering location-based services and push advertising in lieu of the free services offered to users.

How SD-WAN helped

Phuket's city officials took three months to plan the network but took a mere five days to mount and deploy 120 Wi-Fi access points around the city, including its beaches. These access points are enterprise-grade equipment that connects to an SD-WAN network, which is managed via cloud-based management software accessible through a browser. 

The key to this rapid deployment is the plug-and-play and zero-touch provisioning capabilities of the SD-WAN system. All the engineers needed to do was to simply mount the access points at the planned locations and power them up. Setup and configuration were completed automatically via connection to the SD-WAN centralised controller.

Using network data that were collected, city officials were able to build a profile of users logging into the network and use built-in analytics software to create a heat map of where users were physically. This information enabled advertisers to push relevant advertisements promoting the best dining and entertainment options around the city.

Local businesses have seen an increase in their revenue and are able to create loyalty programs and incentives for customers, leading to higher retention rates. With SD-WAN and a robust city-wide W-Fi service, Phuket has not only leveraged the use of technology to attract more foreign businesses and employ more local talent but has also created a network that is self-sustainable.

Business Challenges  How SD-WAN helped
Creating a reliable, high density, outdoor Wi-Fi network for tourists and local businesses. An enterprise-grade, all-in-one appliance with built-in mesh connectivity and security features that is managed by a centralised controller.
Easy to plan and deploy, fast provisioning, ability to maintain network with few technical people. Rollout 120 access points around the city completed in one week enabled by plug-and-play, automatic configuration and zero touch provisioning features. 
A self-sustaining network that is paid by advertisement and location-based services. Cloud-based dashboard leveraged analytics to come up with heat map of traffic hotspots. The intelligence was then used to strategically plan for advertisements and generate revenue to sustain the network.

More in the series:

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Corporate
Government
Networking

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