To understand the business role of Virtual Private Networks, it’s important to know their history. They came to prominence with the advent of the internet, as IT teams realised they could use them to connect to remote gateways.
This meant that businesses that could not afford expensive investments such as wide-area networks (WANs) used VPNs instead, to connect to multiple sites.
However, the emergence of multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), provided a more cost-effective way of managing multiple locations, pushing VPNs into the background for many years.
As the added levels of complexity involved with managing MPLS increased, many organisations inevitably returned to VPNs – especially when it involved managing multiple, international sites. In my view however, the real story today is not around VPNs in their traditional form, but rather the emergence of ‘VPNs on steroids’, otherwise known as SD-WAN technology.
When looking at SD-WAN technology and its ability to simply automate, control and configure multiple sites at a touch of a button, the similarity with a traditional VPN becomes clear.
The reason I use the ‘steroids’ analogy is simple. Like a VPN, SD-WAN is an overlay technology, running over a fibre network (and subsequently the internet), that can be quickly and easily deployed. But unlike the former, SD-WAN technology is much simpler to operate and integrate.
For instance, given the intelligent nature of the technology, SD-WAN can be controlled by virtually anyone and does not rely on a highly skilled IT manager, as is so often the case with VPNs. This usually relates to the need to configure individual firewalls – something SD-WAN does by itself thanks to its automated nature.
Tricky to set up
Firewalls are usually what makes a VPN so tricky to set up. VPN tunnels and encryption algorithms must be put together manually for each site and must be maintained each time a small change is made.
Because a SD-WAN driven world is very intuitive, network policies can be inserted quickly and easily. It’s basically a case of an easy to operate ‘portal world’ versus a complex technical ‘coding and configuration based’ world.
One of the chief characteristics of SDWAN technology is its ability to manage multiple types of connections – from MPLS to broadband to LTE, in both a private and public cloud environment, creating a hybrid network offering. This is a place that VPN, or any other technology for that matter, simply cannot go.
VPNs are of course very reliable and have been tried and tested – that’s the reason they have been in the market for over 20 years. That said, given the sheer power, intelligence, superior cost and the automation ability of SD-WAN technology, and the fact its market share is growing as businesses discover its benefits, means that, in my opinion, VPNs don’t have much more than two years left in existence.
- Mukesh Bavisi is the Managing Director of Exponential-e