Sep 18 2023

Why Software Defined Networks Offer Greater Agility and Performance

Mall operator Westfield and agribusiness Nature Fresh Farms are among those seeing faster data speeds at a lower cost with SD-WAN.

When shopping mall giant Westfield embraced digital transformation, it wanted to build new mobile and web applications to improve the shopping experience for consumers, help retailers increase sales and enable employees to work more efficiently.

To do so, it needed speedier application development and to deploy more Software as a Service (SaaS) apps. Its journey began with an investment in software-defined WAN technology.

“SD-WAN was a pivotal first step because it natively connects our locations to cloud services. There’s no middleman,” says Ken Ogami, Westfield North America’s senior vice president and CIO. “The agility we gained is important. We’re able to become more web- and mobile-focused on this new network.”

Westfield’s previous network, a hub-and-spoke model that routed all the traffic from the company’s 30-plus sites through its data centers before moving elsewhere, was not cloud-friendly, so the company upgraded to Palo Alto Networks SD-WAN, allowing its malls and other retail properties to connect directly to cloud services online.

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That’s the kind of flexibility that many businesses are looking for with SD-WAN, which improves application performance and is more reliable and cost-effective than legacy technology.

“There is an opportunity to save money with SD-WAN, but it’s more about agility and the new applications and innovation that it enables,” says Bob Laliberte, principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

SD-WANs, which are virtualized, are also easier to deploy and manage than traditional WANs, Laliberte says. Through cloud-based management, companies can centrally monitor and manage their networks, including increasing or decreasing bandwidth on demand and prioritizing applications when needed.

Cloud adoption is driving investment in SD-WAN, he says. The technology allows companies to connect their sites and enable office and remote workers to securely access apps and data from on-premises data centers, public clouds and SaaS vendors.

    Ken Ogami
    The ability to increase bandwidth with several clicks on a portal is just amazing.”

    Ken Ogami Senior Vice President and CIO, Westfield

    Westfield Adopts SD-WAN Integrated with Security

    Direct cloud access was a big selling point for Westfield, Ogami says.  

    Westfield, which operates 17 malls and retail spaces at three airports and mixed-use properties in the U.S., standardized on a secure access service edge (SASE) solution that combines SD-WAN with network security.

    Its security components include firewalls, secure web gateways, zero-trust network access and a cloud access security broker (CASB), which allows IT staff to enforce security policies for cloud applications.

    “It gives us a direct connection to Amazon Web Services, Azure and Google Cloud and to SaaS applications like Microsoft 365, with the security components running simultaneously to those services versus routing everything through our data centers,” Ogami says.

    Ogami and his team standardized on Palo Alto Networks’ Prisma SASE solution. First, they deployed SD-WAN in each location using Prisma SD-WAN Instant-On Network routers. Then they layered Prisma Access security tools on top of it, including a CASB and GlobalProtect, which authenticates employees and enables secure app access.

    “Those security components on top of the SD-WAN create a lot of synergy and give us value,” he says.

      Ken Ogami
      A software-defined network delivers mall operator Westfield’s data directly to the cloud “with no middleman,” says Senior Vice President and CIO Ken Ogami. Photography by Thomas Alleman

       

      Ogami’s staff centrally manages the network through a cloud-based portal, increasing bandwidth to handle bursts in traffic, such as when concerts are held at the malls and livestreamed. One example: Lady Gaga’s 2021 performance at the Westfield Century City mall in Los Angeles, which it livestreamed to 21 other malls worldwide and to the web.

      “The ability to increase bandwidth with several clicks on a portal is just amazing,” he says. “And then we can scale it down after the events are done.”

      Ogami says SD-WAN and the cloud migration, which was completed in early 2023, have enabled the company to be nimbler and gain a competitive advantage. New mobile and web apps have improved the customer, retailer and employee experience, he says.

      Westfield has launched a loyalty app and parking app, making it easier for shoppers to pay for parking. During the pandemic, it enabled workers to work remotely and access apps anytime, anywhere. The company has also deployed web apps for employees, who can log in and update digital wayfinding signs and ads on LED screens across Westfield properties. 

      “Scaling and cost savings are both big wins for us, but agility is equally important,” Ogami says. “We have more speed and flexibility than we had with the old model. It’s allowed IT to become a business enabler.”

      DISCOVER: Learn the benefits of a cellular, 5G-based wide-area network.

      To Bolster Its Bandwidth Nature Fresh Farms Uses SD-WAN

      Nature Fresh Farms, a state-of-the-art fresh produce grower, relies on Internet of Things (IoT) sensor data and artificial intelligence-powered data analytics to maximize crop yield at its two large greenhouse farms in Canada and Ohio, which total 250 acres.

      The company produces a lot of data on the condition of its produce – about 11 megabytes of data per plant per week, from how much light and moisture each plant gets to how much each vine weighs and the colors of each bell pepper, cucumber, tomato and strawberry. 

      Nature Fresh Farms’ WAN connects data centers at each farm and at distribution centers in Ontario, Ohio and Texas, enabling the company’s employees to manage logistics, from growing, picking and packing the produce all the way to delivery. But several years ago, the company began hitting bandwidth constraints, endangering its access to critical real-time crop reports.

      It fixed the issue in 2021 by upgrading its WAN from traditional point-to-point VPNs to VMware’s SD-WAN solution, which increased bandwidth from 30 megabits per second to 500.

      “The problem with a VPN is that it didn’t matter what we did for internet access; only so much VPN traffic could flow,” says Keith Bradley, Nature Fresh Farms’ vice president of IT and security. “As we grew, it wouldn’t grow with us.”

      Bradley installed VMware SD-WAN Edge 640 hardware, Dell VxRail hyperconverged infrastructure and Dell PowerScale storage at its two main data centers. At its other sites, he and his staff deployed edge solutions: the VMware SD-WAN Edge 510-LTE and Dell PowerEdge server.

      During the pandemic, he also equipped employees with SD-WAN Edge 510-LTE devices so that they could work from home and connect to company resources.

      The SD-WAN has improved performance. Backing up data, once a 6- to 12-hour process of replicating data from the Ohio data center to the Ontario data center, now takes just three hours, Bradley says.

        At Alabama ONE Credit Union, SD-WAN Improves Redundancy

        In the South, credit union Alabama ONE recently modernized its entire network infrastructure with a new SD-WAN solution and new switches and wireless access points to improve customer service and reliability.

        The Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based financial institution historically relied on multiprotocol label-switching to connect its buildings together, but it was costly and didn’t provide redundancy.

        So, Alabama ONE adopted SD-WAN in 2020, using HPE Aruba Networking equipment to connect its headquarters, nearly a dozen branch offices and two data centers together, says Bobby Umfress II, the credit union’s director of IT infrastructure and operations.

        In doing so, the IT department built redundancy for the first time by subscribing to two ISPs at each location. Their default is fiber internet as the primary connection, with cable broadband and cellular as secondary connections.

        The move increased bandwidth speeds from 10Mbps to between 100 to 300 Mbps and resulted in massive cost savings. In fact, the reduced subscription costs for internet service paid for the whole SD-WAN project, including the Aruba hardware, in one year, Umfress says.

        “We cut costs, we get redundancy and we get faster speeds, so it’s a no-brainer to go with SD-WAN,” he says.

        Overall, the increased bandwidth has enabled the credit union to use more videoconferencing and ensure good customer service by providing employees with seamless access to cloud-based banking apps.

        “When we moved to SD-WAN, the staff said, ‘My video doesn’t freeze, and applications just run more smoothly,’” Umfress says. “It was definitely an overdue upgrade to have extra bandwidth.”

        Jorg Greuel/Getty Images
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