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Why SD-WAN? Turn Point of Sale into a Point of Strength, Even Over Low-Speed Broadband


Why SD-WAN? As distributed organizations face the challenges of digital transformation and modernizing legacy networks, often MPLS, SD-WAN is emerging as the platform for of choice to keep up with the rate of change. Hughes Tim Tang discusses a common reason he hears for why distributed organizations are turning to SD-WAN. 

In my work with enterprise customers, the most common problem facing the digital transformation of retail, restaurant, and other industries is the inability to achieve consistent POS transactions and cloud applications over low-speed broadband connections. 

"After we completed our POS upgrade, it was horrible.... The customers and the employees hated it!"
-- Fast Casual CIO on an all-too-common scenario with low-speed broadband.

It’s common because almost everyone is turning to the cloud as a critical component of their digital transformation strategy.  It’s common because despite substantial, continuous improvements in North American infrastructure over the past decades, for large distributed enterprises, there is still a substantial portion of their network where the only connectivity available to the store or restaurant is a low-speed DSL connection.

A Fast Casual CIO once shared his story with me. "Tim, we had this one restaurant, where the only connection available was a 3 Mbps DSL circuit. After we completed our POS upgrade, it was horrible. Sometimes it would work great, but sometimes it would take 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, or longer. The customers and the employees hated it!"

The reason this problem is getting so much attention is that the point of most digital transformation initiatives is to transform the customer’s in-store experience.  Slow application performance, whether on the customer’s mobile device or the employee’s POS ruins the experience. Both customer and employee have the same human response. They get frustrated. They stop using the applications.

Even worse, they leave.

Some might ask, what’s the big deal?  POS transactions are very light data loads.  Just prioritize your POS traffic over everything else and done.  

Many others would quickly respond, “We did that, and it didn’t work.” 

Data Prioritization Isn’t Enough

The problem is prioritization policies only impact how data enters the network. Prioritization policies have no say over how data transverses the network.  Once a data packet enters the dynamic world of a broadband network, every packet is equal.  As a result, during times of network congestion, where the amount of data exceeds the network’s available capacity, every packet has an equal chance of being dropped. When packets are dropped, they have to be re-transmitted.  When packets are re-transmitted, POS transactions and loyalty apps take longer to complete.

Enterprise customers must be able to achieve consistent POS transactions and other cloud-based applications over low-speed broadband connections. Fortunately, SD-WAN solutions address this issue, regulating the flow of data to fit into the available network capacity. Where prioritization only addresses how packets may enter a network, SD-WAN monitors the broadband network for its available capacity and then responds by shaping the data traffic to fit into the network.  

Think about your broadband connection at home. Nobody gets to tell the Internet, “Give me 15 Mbps or give me 10 Mbps.”

The Internet will give you whatever it can give you.

If you attempt to send 15 Mbps of traffic through a 10 Mbps pipe, the excess data will likely be dropped.  The trick is to know when the Internet only has 10 Mbps and then send 10 Mbps. Similarly, you also want to know when the Internet has 25 Mbps and then send 25 Mbps. Shape your traffic to fit the immediate capacity of the pipe!  The optimal customer experience requires using every bit of capacity that is available.

With Hughes Managed SD-WAN, ActiveTechnologies works in concert to identify and prioritize data types, monitor available bandwidth and leverage intelligent compression to maximise network performance. 

Every SD-WAN Solution Isn’t Right. Choose Wisely.

"When we turned on the Hughes Managed SD-WAN, we consistently got sub-10 second POS transactions over that very same 3 Mbps DSL circuit!"
-- Fast Casual CIO

SD-WAN solutions on the market today vary wildly in their ability to cope with congested broadband circuits. The ideal solution will have the ability to: 
1) Accurately gauge the available network capacity
2) Dynamically shape the data flow to fit the available network capacity

Some SD-WAN solutions cannot detect available capacity and are thus only able to shift traffic from one circuit to a second circuit when high latency or packet loss is detected. In situations where both circuits are congested, the customer will still suffer a miserable user experience. Other solutions for SD-WAN have a very crude ability to gauge network capacity (e.g., they check every X seconds), while others have a very aggressive ability (e.g., they check X times per second)

A very easy way to test an SD-WAN solution is to overload the broadband network with a traffic generator and then see if any cloud-based applications can perform consistently.

For the Fast Casual CIO mentioned earlier, his story has a happy ending.

When we turned on the Hughes Managed SD-WAN, we consistently got sub-10 second POS transactions over that very same 3 Mbps DSL circuit!"

It is a beautiful thing when innovation solves real-world business problems.