If you need to do business in person at your bank, you’ve no doubt experienced long lines and interminable waits to reach a teller cage. But what choice has there been, short of timing your visit to avoid the bank’s rush hours? For a bank, it poses the risk of losing a customer to a competitor across the street.
Well, the long waits may be coming to an end just as soon as enterprise IT departments adopt new software-defined WAN technology. That technology has recently been field-tested and is currently being validated by the toughest of critics: Fortune 100 global organizations with much at stake in every corner of their network operations.
Virtual tellers are tellers from one bank branch who are essentially on call to serve another branch – not in person but over an HD video connection. Either branch can dedicate one or more virtual tellers to the other branch when waiting times would otherwise be unacceptably long, solving the problem just as quickly as it takes to establish a connection. Another option is to have a pool of tellers at centralized facilities.
Was such a service possible in the past? Possible? Yes. Practical or cost effective? No.
Until 2013, the basic architecture of the WAN had changed only in small increments. The choices in front of you were expensive multi-point connectivity over MPLS, or traditional hub-and-spoke architectures over broadband. Improvements in communications protocols led the way, speeding data rates, improving fault tolerance, and increasing security – all essential improvements that, still, could not overcome the shortcomings of the WAN’s prevailing hub-and-spoke architecture. That’s because that architecture makes it virtually impossible (in terms of both technology and economics) to establish a direct connection between any two branches or offices of a bank, or, for that matter, of any business with numbers of regional offices.
Furthermore, with the traditional WAN model, performance penalties can be stiff, depending on the speed of each network hop, router latencies, or delays in accessing datacenter server resources.
As much as five years before 2013, innovators began to envision a better WAN architecture, one that would employ the best tenets of software-defined networking to overcome the massive costs and months-long waits to implement what users would think should be routine changes and improvements.
Fast-forward to 2014, and let’s look at the before and after. Until recently, connecting two branches over a hub-and-spoke WAN architecture required two separate communication links; one link between a branch and the bank’s central data center, and a second link from the data center to a second branch.
There were alternatives. One was to deploy a virtual-teller network over broadband with IPsec security. However, that approach brings complications, with manual configuration needed at every branch, complex policy at every device, the need to maintain security credentials, and the complications and costs of managing a separate network.
Today, with SD-WAN architecture that provides tight integration of routing, security and policy, it’s a routine operation to bypass a WAN’s native hub-and-spoke architecture and direct link two bank branches over highly secure network connections that are typical in enterprise deployments. This not only relieves the bandwidth bottleneck by augmenting traditional MPLS circuits with broadband connections, but it also can be integrated seamlessly with existing infrastructures. In addition, the architecture enables arbitrary topologies: hub-and-spoke where needed, and spoke-to-spoke where needed. A virtual teller application built on such a model, while being deployable in a matter of hours, benefits from enabling high-end bandwidth connections that integrate into existing systems, by providing the flexibility to scale, and by eliminating rigidity in the configuration of tellers’ terminals.
In short, new SD-WAN architectures defy the limitations of existing WAN architecture by providing freedom to make multipoint-to-multipoint connections easily – which IT accomplishes by changing configuration parameters on the network rather than changing the network architecture itself.
The many operational improvements made possible by SD-WAN architecture are just now coming to light, as enterprises test the technology departmentally and often for specific applications. But one thing is clear now: A new approach that benefits IT departments and WAN users across all industries has become a key to massively accelerating the rollout of new WAN applications and the substantial ROI that each can deliver.
Edited by Maurice Nagle