Phillip Miller, Head of infrastructure, Brooks Brothers

SD-WAN Helps Businesses Deliver Better Customer Experiences

Retailers, banks and restaurants are among those finding that better networks lead to better service.

If a business is going to survive over the long haul, it needs to both respect tradition and keep up with the times. Brooks Brothers, which celebrated its 200th anniversary this year, knows this better than most. Two years ago, the iconic men’s ­clothier began looking for a faster, more reliable way to connect its nearly 300 retail outlets across North America.

For years, Brooks Brothers relied on a multiprotocol label-switching network for its point-of-sale and online ordering systems, says Phillip Miller, head of infrastructure and CISO for the New York–based chain. But that telecom network was costly, slow and increasingly unreliable. Every time the connection went down, Brooks Brothers was unable to process transactions until the backup network came online, which could take minutes.

Even when the MPLS network was up, customers who wanted to browse additional inventory on Brooks Brothers’ website were ­frustrated by slow image downloads. Store employees’ rapid adoption of Software as a Service and web-based apps added to the retailer’s data throughput requirements.

“We needed more bandwidth for these new business applications we’d developed, and to better manage the traffic leaving the stores for SaaS providers,” says Miller. “It wasn’t feasible to do it in an MPLS network.”

VMware’s software-defined WAN was a perfect fit, says Miller. Using an SD-WAN with a broadband cable connection was significantly faster, cheaper and more flexible than MPLS, and far easier than having to configure separate ­VPNs for every store.

Any organization that runs a WAN is likely to be interested in SD-WAN, says Brandon Butler, a senior research analyst for IDC. But the earliest adopters have been organizations with a lot of branch offices that need to connect to their headquarters and the cloud.

“They’re a big disruption to the traditional point-to-point gateways companies have deployed in the past,” he says. “We see them enabling hybrid WANs you can augment with another connection type, like 3G or 4G. That way, you can ensure ­certain apps have a backup connection in case of performance issues, or that sensitive traffic, like PCI transactions, travels over a secured net connection while things like web surfing or social media are on a lower-grade network.” Butler adds that software-defined networks also offer additional benefits in terms of security.

“An important piece for small to medium-sized businesses is a more dynamic security model,” he says. 

“You can manage who has access to the WAN and do a better job of tracking apps and users.”

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Companies Better Manage Edge Devices with SD-WAN

Around 18 months ago, Miller’s team began installing VMware NSX SD-WAN by VeloCloud servers at its regional data centers in North America and NSX SD-WAN Edge devices inside each store. Now, if the primary broadband connection goes down, the system automatically fails over to a Cradlepoint LTE wireless modem in less than a second

Boosting bandwidth while cutting costs is a great win, says Miller, but the biggest benefit is the ease of provisioning and managing a software-defined environment. His team set up each Edge device in advance, shipped them to stores and manages them remotely.

Phillip Miller
We needed more bandwidth for these new ­business applications we’d developed, and to better manage the traffic leaving the stores for SaaS providers.”

Phillip Miller Head of infrastructure, Brooks Brothers

“With over-the-air provisioning, you just drop the box in the store and it’s ready to go. You can pick anything you want for a connection and not have to change network operations on the back end,” says Miller. “You can also prioritize traffic based on business rules to, say, give traffic related to sales transactions a higher priority than web surfing.”

The VeloCloud admin dashboard greatly simplifies network monitoring and troubleshooting, he adds. And that will prove especially handy as Brooks Brothers begins to roll out SD-WAN to many of its overseas locations over the next 18 months. “Because we’ve got IT people spread across the globe, we can give our tech people in India or the Far East access to the VeloCloud control panel, so they can monitor their environment and take action if a store is suffering from degraded network performance.”

SD-WAN Simplifies Branch Management for Banks

For customers of STAR Financial Bank, doing business with a friendly face makes a big difference. That’s why the Indiana-based community bank installed interactive teller machines at all 45 locations, so customers can talk with tellers via a live video feed.

Until last year, all of those ITMs were connected via an MPLS network, says Brian Avery, systems and infrastructure manager for STAR. And like Brooks Brothers, STAR was finding those circuits costly, inflexible and unreliable.

“We needed carrier redundancy, as well as flexibility in choosing our service providers and types of connectivity,” says Avery. “There’s a limited number of MPLS players, but an increasing number of local ISPs that provide good service, especially in rural areas. Our ability to work directly with these ISPs has given us more control over the network and more redundancy, which in turn greatly increased our reliability.”

40%

Annual growth rate of SD-WAN infrastructure market through 2020

Source: IDC "Worldwide SD-WAN Infrastructure Forecast: 2018-2020," August 2018

About half of the bank’s ITMs were connected via VMware NSX SD-WAN, with the rest slated to come online by the end of 2018.

Adopting SD-WAN enabled the bank to “deliver a clean, continuous, always-available video connection to bring customer and banker together,” he says. “The increased reliability of our network ensures that when people visit a STAR location, they consistently receive the highest levels of service.”

Businesses Tap Seamless Redundancy with SD-WAN

Some businesses take a hybrid approach, using WAN circuits backed up by an SD-WAN system. For example, Piada Italian Street Food deployed a 4G SD-WAN solution from Cradlepoint in each of its 42 restaurants across the Midwest. The network kicks in when WAN connections fail, which can happen daily, says Dave Gifford, an independent network coordinator who set up and manages Piada’s Cradlepoint systems.

Almost nobody knows how to ­process credit cards manually anymore, says Gifford, so if the restaurant’s point-of-sale system goes offline, it could be forced to shut down or give food away.

That’s why a redundant network like the Cradlepoint 4G is essential.

“As soon as the primary WAN goes down, it will fail over to the 4G and kick in seamlessly, so that the restaurant doesn’t even know,” he says. “They just continue working like nothing happened. Now, I’m the only one who knows that something happened.”

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Photography by Matt Furman
Nov 16 2018

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